A unique portion of U.S. immigration law allows young men
and women from around the world (ages 18 to 26), who hold at least secondary
school degrees, to come to the U.S. in order to live with a family, and provide
childcare. It offers many advantages to both family and au pair: You pay a
modest wage and receive up to 45 hours a week of child care, while the au pair
receives your help learning English, receiving a bit of education, and having
an American cultural experience.
The au pair can stay in the U.S. for up to twelve
months on this visa, with a maximum of one twelve-month extension. However, most au pairs prefer
to leave after one year or less.
The au pair program is administered through various private
agencies as well as the U.S. State Department (DOS). An au pair receives a cultural
exchange visa called a J-1. Like every visa, the J-1 has rules and time limits
and can be taken away if either you or the au pair fails to meet these.
Fortunately, as the employing family, you don’t have learn
much about the legal aspects of this process. An intermediary agency will take
care of the visa, background checks, and associated administrative hassles (for
a price). But you should start by looking into whether you are eligible and what
basic responsibilities you will be taking on, as described in this article.
Who Is Eligible to Host an Au Pair
Not everyone will be able to make use of the au pair
program. To serve as a host family, you and your spouse or partner must:
- live within an hour’s drive of an au pair
program coordinator’s home (someone authorized to act on the sponsoring agency’s
behalf in both routine and emergency matters relating to the au pair and who
will visit or contact you regularly, especially in the first two months, to see
how things are going)
- be interviewed by an agency representative
- pass a background investigation in which you
provide employment and personal character references (for you and any adults
living full time in your household)
- be financially capable of affording all your
- have status as U.S. citizens or legal permanent
- be fluent in English
- not expect the au pair to be in charge of any
children under the age of three months (and if you will have children this
young when the au pair arrives, be able to show that an adult will be on hand
to care for them)
- not plan on the au pair caring for any
special-needs child, unless the au pair has specifically relevant prior
experience, skill, or training
- have enough space in your home to give the au
pair a private bedroom, and
- cooperate with the sponsoring agency’s
preparation of detailed materials to pass to the au pair, including a profile
of your family and community and of the educational institutions where he or she
will be able to take classes.
The Host Family’s Obligations to the Au Pair
Once the au pair is living in your home, you will be
responsible for the following:
supervision. For the first three days of the au pair’s stay, a member of
your family or a contact person must be present in the house.
- Pay. This
is not open to negotiation. You must pay a preset amount; that was $195.75 per week in late 2016.
work days and hours. The au pair is allowed to work only 45 hours per week
and no more than ten hours per day or five and one-half days per week. (In
other words, the au pair must have at least one and a half days off every
week.) The schedule can be flexible, however; for example, the au pair could
work morning some days and evenings on others, depending on your needs.
in family activities. You are expected to share meals, outings, holiday
parties, and other family activities with your au pair. If you and your family
go hiking, rollerblading, to the beach, or on any vacation travel, you must
take the au pair with you (and pay travel expenses).
off. Once a month, the au pair must be allowed a complete weekend with no
responsibilities. Consider this essential for mental health reasons.
You must give your au pair two paid weeks of vacation time per year. (That
means you pay the usual salary—but there’s no need to pay the actual vacation
expenses in this case.)
and pay for classes. The U.S. government expects you to not only foster the
au pair’s experience and understanding of life in the United States, but to pay
up to $500 per year for at least six semester hours of college-level
coursework. And you must help with the sign-up process. Many au pairs attend English
classes, especially if their required English proficiency turns out to have
- Attend a
conference. The au pair organization will sponsor regular family day
conferences. You will need to attend at least one during the placement year. There
are limits to your responsibilities, however. For one thing, unlike with your
own children, you are not obligated to pay every expense the au pair incurs.
Telephone calls, for example, are not your responsibility. Nor are gas and
entertainment when the au pair is out, for example taking weekend trips or
spending the evening with friends.
If all this looks do-able, your next step is to find an
agency in your area and get the process started.