Would you ever hire an AWOL Au Pair?

by cv harquail on June 23, 2010

That’s a rhetorical question.

A host mom just sent me a link to a discussion forum wherein a parent was asking for help finding an au pair.

This parent doesn’t want just any au pair. This parent wants an au pair who has gone AWOL– who has left an official au pair program & host family and is seeking a new placement.

201006232225.jpgWhat is this parent thinking?

As one forum participant replies:

OP, what you’re really asking is…

“How do I find someone who came to this country under false pretenses, deliberately overstayed their visa and/or jumped ship on their commitment to another family, but is now perfectly willing to take someone else’s money while staying completely under the legal radar? I’d like to leave them with my child(ren) and the keys to my house, since I know they’ll always do the right thing with both.”

Um, yeah.

Couldn’t have said it better.

What a bad idea.

Note: AWOL means “absent without leave.” In military terminology, going AWOL is to abandon a “duty” or post without permission from one’s Government or superior.

Image: awol from sensesmaybenumbed


Aupair Mama June 23, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Maybe the parent in the post wanted one who was in usa and wanted to stay more w/out the agency fees. C’mon don’t pretend like you’ve never considered how much cheaper things would be w/out paying the $7k to the agency? I’m thinking that the lady is really looking to not pay the fee. Many aupairs find their LLC’s completely useless and their agencies pretty much just taking $. I know on rematch many aupairs find that they have barely any choice and the agencies side w/ the host parents. I am not saying I believe all this stuff but from this perspective its prob not a bad idea. Honestly after reading this blog and soul searching I’ve decided the live in option is too much at this time. I am just tired of always trying to accomodate another person as a family member. I just want an employee. You come , you work, you get paid, you go back to another place to live, end of story. So no I wouldnt hire awol …

Host Mommy Dearest June 23, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Nope. i wouldn’t consider an AWOL for so many reasons. Even if her being AWOL did not imply that she was cheating the system or bagging on her commitment somewhere, I love the fact that I am above board when I follow the program rules (not paying my AP “under the table” which is our way of saying we are not paying taxes when we should be.)

PA AP mom June 23, 2010 at 11:47 pm

I wouldn’t do it, but I can’t say that I have never thought how nice it would be to not have to pay the agency fees.

I receive calls from the agency every day or every other day until I choose an AP and pay the fees and then I hear nothing until the next matching time arrives.

I understand the frustration.

Pa host mom of two Au-Pairs June 23, 2010 at 11:54 pm

I like the phrase ” I’d like to leave them with my child(ren) and the keys to my house, since I know they’ll always do the right thing with both.” Come on….(@^@)
If the AP hasn’t done the right thing in the beginning, middle or end why would she even commit to doing the right thing for you and your family. I won’t trust her with my family and little ones, I rather pay the agency fee…. This situation is a disaster…. enough said.

Euromom June 24, 2010 at 5:50 am

But what if…

this person was really willing to put alot of ground work in before accepting the “awol” AP. Perhaps she is looking for an AP that has been in the US for a year or two – had great references that could be checked by calling/meeting her previous families with extensive training in childcare, etc, etc, but whose visa had run out and maybe the AP wants to pursue some studies here while carrying on au-pairing. (so the AP has another commitment holding her here)

In this sort of situation – I would say yes, and to be honest, if it did not work out – then you are not 7K down!

Just a different perspective.

Calif Mom June 24, 2010 at 12:27 pm

liability, liability, liability.

If you do this, what recourse do you have if it “does not work out”? If she disappears one weekend with your car and doesn’t show up on Monday morning, do you just write off the loss of your car? Or do you report it missing to the police? In answering their questions do you acknowledge that you’ve been employing her illegally because there’s no way her visa is legal AND YOU KNOW THAT? Or do you lie to the cops, cover it up? (How well will you be sleeping after that?)

What if she totals your car (not that au pairs have ever totaled cars) and ends up in the ER? Do you pay cash for those bills since she obviously can’t pay and doesn’t have ANY health insurance? Or do you let the hospital bill collectors go after her (and you) for years?

What if she accidentally causes a kitchen fire and your homeowner’s insurance investigator doesn’t believe your cover up story that it was you who did it, and they won’t cover your claim because she isn’t living in the states legally? Or your kids hear you lying, and blurt out what really happened while you’re on the phone?

Overly dramatic scenarios? Maybe. But not that far-fetched. The list goes on and on. It’s just. not. worth. $7k.

BLJ Host Mom June 24, 2010 at 1:20 pm

So well put, Calif Mom. And I consider the $7K / 12 as part of my monthly expense, rather than looking at the 195/week as the cost of my childcare.

Another thing that is not worth the $7K – the unthinkable – something happening to one of your children.

NJMom June 24, 2010 at 7:30 am

No way! But I am a cautious, by the book person. I can still understand the frustration with the agency fee. What do they do with all that money, really??? But I would not want someone who so clearly broke laws and rules taking care of my kids.

KM June 24, 2010 at 8:21 pm

I wondered where the money went. Decided to take a look at the regulations and tried to figure the actual cost. Here’s what I came up with. It’s probably not accurate, but it does show how quickly it can add up.

Airfare – two one-way tickets because airlines don’t allow round trip open end tickets anymore. The airfare can vary by $700 depending upon what time of year you want your au pair to arrive. So I picked August and found a one-way ticket to NYC for $3K economy fare on Lufthansa (assuming my au pair came from Europe). Then I went to a travel site and found one airfare for $600, one for $750, one for $1008 and the rest were higher. I guess the airfare would be higher if my au pair came from Republic of South Africa. So now let’s say I chose the airfare for $600. That means I will need to pay at least $600 for my au pair’s return trip. Total now is $1,200. This is really conservative! Could not find even a student fare for Aug.

The regs state that au pairs must have medical insurance. So I went online and found some really reasonable insurance. But wait. . .the regs also have minimum coverage amounts, the carrier must have specific ratings and more. By the time I got done exploring this (briefly), I found medical insurance for about $630 for a year. Total now is $1,830.

Workshop – There is the hotel cost for at least four nights, meals, the instructor salary, airport transport (hopefully provided by hotel), that NYC tour offered to the au pairs, materials for the workshop. My guess is that agencies get some economies of scale with larger workshop groups. But it still must be spendy. Perhaps $800 total for each au pair? Don’t even want to think what that would cost for a single au pair. Total now is $2,630.

Regs say I gotta have an LCC. So what do they get paid? Maybe $60 a month for each au pair? Total now is $3,350.

Oops, forgot about the foreign person who interviews the au pair, verifies the references and such. Guess that person won’t do it for free. How would I know if a criminal background check was valid from Poland? I don’t speak Polish so I would need to hire someone to translate and verify it right? I know European wages are higher. So I figured about $800 fee for their services. Total now is $4,150.

Oh yeah, there are some documents/papers that need to go to the au pair for her visa appointment. Well, FedEx fees need to be added to this. I assume these docs are sent by courier. Add another $50. Total now is $4,200.

The regs also require background checks, interviews and such for host families. Background check expense can vary. So I guessed a two-parent family in NY is about $160 (unless you have a friend in law enforcement). Total now is $4,360 or 62% of a $7K program fee.

If I were to do this on my own and my au pair gets homesick in the first 30 days and goes home, I’m out the airfare, hotel, meals, workshop and maybe even the medical insurance premium. At least the agency will replace for a nominal fee and lowers the risk.

Agencies have other expenses. The regs talk about annual reviews. That’s got to be expensive if an auditor from a CPA firm reviews au pair and host family files and the agency pays for it. There are probably other fees agencies pay to the govt. Overhead like office rent, phones, fax, office supplies, salaries, benefits and insurance is more expense. Aren’t the financial statements available for public view if the agency is a nonprofit?

So yeah, the fees are high. When added to the au pair’s weekly salary though, it seems more reasonable.

MommyMia June 25, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Great job, KM! The only things I think you’re a bit high on your estimates are:
plane fare – I’m sure the agencies have deals with certain airlines for what used to be called “charter” flights, where they book a block of seats or are entitled to discount fares as frequent fliers, and the NY tours are usually an extra cost, borne by the AP or through some agencies the host family, who are marketed to purchase this perk as a gift for their incoming AP. And I don’t believe any of the agencies are nonprofit, so no, their statements aren’t available to the public and quite the opposite, are purposely not disclosed, because I’m sure we’d be shocked at the overhead and administrative expenses they are charging. The LCCs are probably a very tiny portion of the salaries paid, as I know in my agency there are at least three or more higher levels, and I’m sure all of those people are making upwards of $75K annually, as the cost of living in their HQ area is very high.

Edina, at aupairclearinghouse.com, has tried to get more information from the agencies, but has found it difficult. Despite the requests from us, the consumers, the agencies don’t want to tell us what their rates of rematch or success are, where their largest pools of applicants are from, who are the partner companies overseas that they’ve linked with to recruit and conduct interviews, what the financial incentives to the au pairs are, etc. And despite many families continuing year after year, or taking extension APs already in the country, most agencies are reluctant to pass any of their savings along to us.

Julia August 28, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Nice calculation but u have to keep in mind that the au pair pays also around 700-900 dollars to come here to cover airfares, insurance, screening and so on. Plus they also pay for the better health insurance. I remember that my hostmom said that the au pair school costs her 500 dollars.

NoVa host mom June 24, 2010 at 7:52 am

Absolutely not!
i agree that i think the agency fees are very high for what you actually get (and don’t get me started on what you have to pay for an extension year!)….

but, the person she is considering is here illegally, and like many posts previously, as best you think you know / have asked about intentions, you never know. If they have left one family in the lurch and completely ignore laws and rules, why would you believe they would not do this again. a better offer comes along, just change their mind, and off they go…. family with no childcare.

i think just a really bad idea….

NoVA Host Mom June 25, 2010 at 1:01 am

Oh, a second NoVA HM! Could you maybe put a 2 after your name so people can tall us apart? Thanks so much!

HRHM June 24, 2010 at 8:04 am

I think it depends on the circumstances of why she’s AWOL in the 1st place. If she’s done 2 years and can’t extend, then how is it any different than helping her get a student visa and then letting her “help” with the kids in exchange for room/board and “pocket money” (which many seemed to think was ok in a previous post) I wouldn’t do it because with our jobs, we have to do everything above board. But if it wasn’t for that, I would HAPPILY avoid the agency fee, take an AP who had glowing AMERICAN references (not some distant cousin in Kagikistan) and never have to deal with my LCC, who has just starting, has never had an AP and is less qualified for her job than I am. My 2 cents.

Hula Gal June 24, 2010 at 10:01 am

We found our new au pair through GreatAuPair.com. We were very clear in our profile which agency we were with and that whomever we matched with must be accepted to this agency before we could officially take them on as our Au Pair. The au pair we found was happy to do it since she felt it would provide her more “protection” from unscrupulous families. I was surprised to find this whole “underground” world of au pairs and host families that do this without an agency. It is against the law. If you do not want to go through an agency and be legal than get a nanny that is in the US legally. You can find plenty of nannies who live in the US legally on GreatAuPair.com as well. I do believe there was a previous post that discussed the benefits to having an agency such as health insurance, return airfare being paid for, the ability to rematch if your host family is not treating you well and support from your area director or LCC if you are in an unsafe situation. It is unfortunate that some agencies are not doing a good job but breaking the law is not the right way to solve the problem.

MeAgain(AP) June 24, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I know, I joined that website, and I also specified on my profile that I’m with an agency and wanting to continue with them, it’s incredible how most of these families and au pairs are all wanting to do this the illegal way…I think I don’t have a chance on this site! :(

MommyMia June 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Don’t give up, MeAgain. I know lots of people who search GreatAuPair because they’ve had it with the huge, impersonal agencies and their high fees. However, if I did find someone perfect, I’d have to ask them to join an agency (preferably the one with lowest rates to me!) because I’m always going to be legal about it, and would hope that any future AP of mine would realize that the services and benefits provided are worth every penny IF you need medical coverage, have any major problems while here, etc. Granted, if we all are careful, it’s more like paying an insurance premium, just in case.

Jennifer June 24, 2010 at 11:42 am

Believe it or not, I came upon this exact situation at a playgroup of all places. The AP’s original family suffered a job loss and couldn’t afford the fees. The AP went to the LCC’s house but they couldn’t find her another placement. The AP was 25, had a degree in early childhood development and had three years working in a nursery school.She was amazing with the kids. A family in our playgroup snapped her up, apparently with the LCC’s knowledge.

The AP was Bolivian ( but by no means a party girl). She said here were few opportunities for her there and she really wanted to stay in the community. Her plan was to stay underground (with LCC’s knowledge) until her contract ran out and then apply for a student visa. Officially, she was still staying with LCC ” awaiting rematch” but was ” staying with” an unofficial host family without a contract. She said she needed some way to make money while waiting in limbo.

I didn’t ask if she would take a new family if it came up or not. Evidently the LCC was trying to place her locally without success. At that time I was kinda envious because that girl was GREAT with the 3 and under kids and appeared to be relaxed confident and capable. Was it wrong to not send her home? Illegal, yes, but I think she came to the program and got ripped off by having her HF go broke. She would have played by the rules, but the rules would have sent her back prematurely through no fault of her own. In that respect, I think she just wanted to stay in the same situation she had contracted for.

franzi June 24, 2010 at 1:02 pm

without wanting to play the devils advocate here, any AP who wants to be placed locally in a rematch risks being sent home. in a rematch one should be open to be placed anywhere, really. if you start being picky (eg by region) that’s when the rematch chances dwindle down.

i understand any AP who wants to rematch in the same area (heck, i did!) but it’s not an argument in this case because i think that particular AP mentioned would have had very good chances in a rematch the legal way!

My 2 cents June 24, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Seriously, if you are going to go this route, than why not just ask your landscaper or your cleaning lady if his or her daughter, niece, granddaughter, neighbor, what have you, is interested in watching your children and you will pay them cash with no receipts or tax filings? Who cares how they got here and whether they have a current visa or green card.

Bottom line is it’s a choice as to which direction you choose to go. More expensive, but part of a sanctioned program, or less expensive, totally on your own.

West Coast Mom June 24, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Never. Not Ever.

Our first AP was a disaster, and we needed the help of the LCC and the agency to get her out of our lives. I am told she did not go quietly, but very thankfully, that was an issue for the agency and LCC to deal with.

Maybe everything will go well, and you won’t need them. But if it doesn’t, it’s really nice to have their help. Is it worth $7K? For us – definitely.

NewAPMama June 24, 2010 at 4:12 pm

I will never support someone working illegally in this country. It is just wrong on so many levels. So, no, I would never take an AWOL aupair.

JBLV June 24, 2010 at 4:44 pm

It occurs to me that the person who wants an AWOL au pair is probably not just interested in cost savings, but maybe also interested in a greater amount of power over the au pair. Perhaps he thinks he can make her work longer hours for more days of the week, and not provide college tuition or vacation days. He wouldn’t necessarily have to include her in family activities or provide her transportation either. The power balance would be skewed as he can always hold her illegal status over her head.

No matter what way you look at it, it’s not a good situation.

Courtney Bosch June 24, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Definitely agree with JBLV – sounds like not only wanting to avoid the fees, but also a sense of control over the au pair. There would be no form of protection for the au pair at all and that could not only be dangerous for the family, but for the au pair as well. Could get ugly on many fronts. I wouldn’t do it!

NoVA Host Mom June 25, 2010 at 1:07 am

There are just so many reasons why we would not be doing this. Start with the whole legal/not-so-legal visitor issue (which could cause an issue with our jobs), and continue to the problems that could happen if this AWOL-AP suddenly decides to relocate without notice. Now the HF would be left not only without child care, but also without an LCC to help you locate a replacement. Move on to the other myriad of issues Calif Mom laid out so well. Add those together and the stress and complications to try to “save” the agency fees (and likely pay out more than double while trying to do so), and there is nothing that can be consider a benefit about hiring an AWOL AP.

Aupairgal June 25, 2010 at 4:10 am

Random question: Is there a legal way to hire an aupair in America without an agency?

Dorsi June 25, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Nope. One of the requirements for the “au pair visa” is agency sponsorship. There are other visas out there, but it is quite difficult to have a childcare provider qualify (as there is no shortage of such workers in the country).

Mom of 4 June 27, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Well, as a mom who dropped her au pair off at the airport international terminal, cried as we hugged goodbye, and then found out later that she never got on her flight…I don’t feel that I can trust the entire wonderful year we had with her. She lied to me and my family, she is now living illegally in the States. Even though she was a wonderful au pair, I want to scream from the mountaintops to all the mommies out there interviewing her right now. “Don’t look at the recommendation letter I gave her! She is a liar!” It just hit me really hard. She probably knew I’d NOT be OK with her going underground, which is why she hasn’t called. But I feel really let down. The kids are asking why she hasn’t kept in touch, and I am frustrated that she is now one more of the many illegals in our country mired in a situation with no rights and also using the system. Yes, her home country situation was meager, and yes, we showed her a good life in the USA, but by using deceit to come here…I just feel really let down. I would never hire someone like this – – I just feel like it (meaning our year with her) was all a lie. Sigh.

Aria June 28, 2010 at 3:56 am

Wow! That is a pretty dirty thing to do. As disappointed as you probably are, I would try not to let it sully the good memories you do have of her year. Even though her year with you was obviously a stepping stone, that doesn’t mean she didn’t love your family and kids… I would try to take it on good faith that she did. I’m not saying what she did was right (it wasn’t) but try to keep the good and just let go of the bad. I’m so sorry about this ugly situation!

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