What is an Au Pair?
An Au Pair is a foreign national who enters the United States on a J-1 Visa through the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Visitor Exchange Program. In exchange for providing limited childcare services, Au Pairs live with host families to continue their education and experience American life.
Au Pairs must be between 18 to 26 years of age, secondary school graduates or the equivalent, and speak proficient English. While in the United States, they must also complete at least six hours of academic credits or equivalent at an accredited U.S. post-secondary educational institution.
Au Pairs may provide up to 10 hours of childcare each day and a maximum of 45 hours of childcare each week, with limitations. Au Pairs may only be placed with host families who have children three months of age or younger if there will always be another responsible adult present when the Au Pair provides care. In addition, Au Pairs may only be placed in families with children under age 2 if they have at least 200 hours of documented childcare experience. Au Pairs are initially placed with a host family for 12 months, but may extend their stay for 6, 9 or 12 additional months.
Is an Au Pair Right For You?
For families who are looking for an intercultural experience and wish to open their homes and hearts to a young foreign national, hiring an Au Pair may be a great option. Au Pairs share meals with their host families, travel with them and play an active role in the family’s daily life.
For families looking for qualified, full-time childcare, however, an Au Pair may not be the best childcare option. For families with young children, knowing that Au Pairs are only required to have 200 hours of documented childcare experience, equivalent to only 5 weeks of full-time nanny experience, and receive only 8 hours of child safety training and 24 hours of child development training upon arrival into the United States can be disheartening.
For parent who work long hours and adhere to strict schedules, limiting their Au Pair’s hours to 45, guaranteeing weekends off and working around the Au Pair’s school schedule can be impossible.
For many parents, an Au Pair takes on the role of an older child in the family. Parents become concerned about their Au Pair navigating an unknown world and as such, feel responsible for their Au Pair’s safety and wellbeing. Since Au Pairs are more like family members than employees, it can be difficult for children to view their Au Pair as an authority figure, especially when ongoing guidance and discipline is required.
Many parents prefer to meet and interview their potential childcare provider in person before offering her a care giving position, never mind inviting her to live in their home. For parents who want to truly know who they’re hiring to care for their children, the Au Pair option may not be suitable.
For families looking for long-term, consistent childcare, investing in not only training a childcare provider, but building a relationship and fostering a bond between the Au Pair and their children, can seem like a lot of work for a short-term placement.
Is an Au Pair a Nanny?
While the terms nanny and Au Pair are used interchangeably, they couldn’t be more worlds apart. Nannies are childcare specialists who are employed by parents to care for the family’s children in their private home. Nannies provide customized, individualized and attentive care as they partner with parents to meet the social, educational, emotional and intellectual needs of the children. While some nannies do live in their employer’s home, most commute to and from work each day.
Nannies typically have extensive childcare experience and most have a background in early childhood education. Nannies are also prepared to undergo an extensive background screening, including a criminal records check, sex offender registry check, motor vehicle driving record check and reference check. Nanny employers must also verify that the nanny is legally able to accept employment in the United States by using The Department of Homeland Security’s Form I-9 for employment eligibility verification.
Since parents can create their own set of specific hiring criteria, they can handpick their childcare provider based on what is most suitable for their family’s unique care giving needs. And since nannies and parents enter into a formal employment relationship, the parents become the employers and as such, can set the professional boundaries, tone, hours, schedule and salary of their employee.
Requirements of Hiring an Au Pair
Once a parent has decided that Au Pair Care is the right option, they’ll need to contact a designated sponsor organization to facilitate a placement. The U.S. Department of State approves designated sponsor organizations to implement the J-1 Visitor Exchange Program in accordance with the established regulations. Designated sponsor organizations select and screen candidates for program inclusion and provide basic training and organization.
In addition to providing a private room and three meals per day, host families must pay up to $500 for the Au Pair’s academic coursework and facilitate the Au Pair’s enrollment, provide two weeks of paid vacation, include the Au Pair in family and holiday events and celebrations and pay a weekly stipend. Au pairs are compensated for their work according to the Fair Labor Standards Act as interpreted and implemented by the U.S. Department of Labor.
While the cost for hiring an Au Pair can vary, parents can expect to pay a sponsor organization a nonrefundable application fee of, a match fee, a program fee and a weekly stipend, in addition to the $500 educational allowance. The weekly stipend typically factors in the allowance for room and board into the hourly wage rate.
If the Au Pair will be transporting the children, the host family may have to supply a vehicle, enroll the Au Pair in a driver’s education course and add her to their automobile insurance policy.
Designated Sponsor Organizations
The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs selects designated sponsor organizations to help families and foreign nationals connect. Currently there are 14 approved designated sponsor organizations throughout the United States.
To learn more about the Au Pair program and to contact designated sponsor organizations, visit http://j1visa.state.gov/programs/au-pair.