Can I Help My Nanny Get a Visa or Green Card?

Temporary and permanent visa options for foreign-born childcare workers in the United States.

By , Attorney

Many American families hire foreign nannies to take care of their children. Some families want the nanny to stay with them permanently, while others require only temporary childcare. Although many families end up hiring "under the table," particularly when the nanny is in the U.S. without legal immigration status, both are both temporary visa and permanent green card possibilities exist to bring a foreign nanny to the United States, most notably:

  • J-1 visa for foreign au pairs
  • H-2B visa for unskilled worker
  • B-1 visa if you yourself are a foreigner in the U.S. on a visa, and the nanny will be coming to the U.S. with you, and
  • sponsorship for a green card (if you're willing to undertake a lengthy and difficult hiring and application process as probably wait several years before a visa becomes available to your nanny).

It's unfortunately also the case that many of these involved are hard to obtain, or involve paperwork and potentially long waits. Also, if your nanny is already living in the U.S. without legal status, these possibilities become far fewer.

This article will discuss the above-mentioned options for obtaining lawful immigration status for a nanny or childcare worker, to help you strategize.

Visa Options for Hiring a Nanny for a Temporary U.S. Stay

There are three types of temporary visas available for nannies: J-1. H-2B, and (if you yourself are coming to the U.S. on a visa) B-2.

J-1 Visas for Au Pairs

The first possibility is called the J-1 Exchange Visitor visa. Nannies are referred to as "au pairs" in the J-1 visa program. J-1 visas are initially valid for one year and the nanny can extend the visa for up to one additional year.

The J-1 visa is suitable for a family that does not already have a foreign worker in mind to employ as a nanny. But the requirements are strict, both for the family and the worker.

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 hosting obligations
  • have status as U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents
  • 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.

Host Family's Obligations to the Au Pair

Once the au pair is living in your home, you will be responsible for the following:

  • Initial 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 minimum stipend; the exact amount will be set by the U.S. Department of State.
  • Limited 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.
  • Inclusion 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).
  • Weekends off. Once a month, the au pair must be allowed a complete weekend with no responsibilities. Consider this essential for mental health reasons.
  • Vacation. 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.)
  • Arrange 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 been exaggerated.
  • 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.

Arranging for an Au Pair

Families who sponsor au pairs for J-1 visas must work with a U.S. Department of State (DOS) designated sponsor. These sponsors oversee and assist with the au pair application process. The sponsors are members of international networks that hire and train au pairs, and the sponsors basically match someone who is already affiliated with the sponsor's association to a U.S. family.

For example, let's say the Johnson family wants to bring their Russian niece, Natasha, to the U.S. as a nanny. Before Natasha can obtain the J-1 visa, she would need to become affiliated with one of the DOS sponsors, which can be a difficult and lengthy process. Therefore, the J-1 visa is probably not the best option for the Johnson family.

The DOS J-1 website provides a list of the current sponsors and a comprehensive description of the J-1 nanny program, including a detailed explanation of the application process, the U.S. family's obligations to the foreign nanny, and how a foreign nanny qualifies for the visa.

H-2B Nonimmigrant Visas a Possibility for Nannies

If you already know the nanny you want to hire, the temporary, H-2B nonimmigrant visa is the best bet, if you can qualify. It doesn't come with a requirement that the family go through a DOS sponsor. Rather, the family sponsors the H-2B nanny on its own.

Disadvantages to the H-2B Option

There are disadvantages to obtaining an H-2B visa for a nanny. For one, there is an annual limit of 66,000 H-2B visas, which are given out twice during the year, 33,000 at a time. Sometimes this limit is reached quickly, at which point no more visas are issued for the next six months of that fiscal year. Therefore, if the H-2B process is delayed, there might not be a visa available for the nanny even if USCIS approves the I-129 petition. However, if your nanny had an H-2B visa some time in the three years before applying, or comes under a special exception (as are sometimes granted), the limit might not apply.

Second, you must demonstrate to the DOL that there are no available U.S. workers that can fill the position and prove that you will pay at a minimum the "prevailing wage."

Third, your nanny has to be from one of the countries eligible to participate in the H-2B visa program.

Finally, you must agree that if you terminate the nanny's employment before the agreed-upon end date, you must pay the costs of the nanny's return trip to the home country. The employer-family is responsible for these costs regardless of the reason for the early termination. (However, if the nanny voluntarily leaves employment early, the family is not responsible for these costs.)

Procedures to Sponsor an H-2B Nanny

Sponsoring an H-2B nanny is a multistep process.

  • First, the family must obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS, to give to the Department of Labor (DOL) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the H-2B applications. This process is not particularly difficult or costly, but plan ahead: It can take weeks to obtain the EIN. IRS Publication 926 provides helpful explanations on doing so.
  • Second, the family (as the nanny's employer) must file an ETA Form 9142B, Application for Temporary Employment Certification, with the DOL.
  • Third, after the DOL approves the temporary employment certification, the family files an I-129 petition with USCIS.
  • Fourth, after USCIS approves the I-129, it sends the approval to the U.S. consulate in the nanny's home country and the nanny obtains the H-2B visa from the consulate. Or, if the nanny is already lawfully in the U.S., a change of status, in which you file all paperwork directly with USCIS, might be possible (using USCIS Form I-539).

B-1 Visa a Possibility for Nanny Accompanying a Temporary Visa Holder in the U.S.

You can also use the B-1 visa for your nanny if you ordinarily live outside the U.S. and you are traveling to the U.S. temporarily, or if you are subject to frequent international transfers lasting two years or more. Your job must be bringing you to the U.S. for no more than a four-year stay.

For the B-1, your nanny must have been working for you for at least six months prior to your admission to the U.S. or, alternatively, you must have regularly employed a nanny while outside the United States. Your nanny must have at least one year of experience as a personal or domestic employee, and can't work for anyone else while in the United States. You have to give your nanny free room and board and round trip airfare in and out of the United States.

See How Visitors to the U.S. Can Bring Domestic or Personal Servants. And for help with getting a B-1 visa, see Application Process for a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa.

Sponsoring a Nanny for Permanent U.S. Residence

In order for a nanny to live and work in the U.S. permanently, the family must sponsor the nanny for a green card. This option won't work for every family, however. It involves completing a lengthy and complex process known as labor certification or PERM and another potentially years-long wait before a visa becomes available. What's more, if your nanny is already working for you, it will require her to be able to maintain legal immigration status in the meantime.

Undertaking PERM Labor Certification on Behalf of a Nanny

The PERM process requires employers (in this case, the family) to place job advertisements, interview applicants whose resumes indicate that they meet the basic qualifications, and ultimately show that no U.S. applicants were available, qualified, and willing to do the job. The DOL views the nanny job position as a "nonprofessional" occupation, because it feels that a person does not need a bachelor's degree to perform the required duties.

Because the nanny position is nonprofessional, the family needs to place three advertisements: one on the state's workforce agency website, and two others on consecutive Sundays in the major newspaper in the area. For example, a family living in Washington, DC could place the two newspaper ads in the Washington Post.

Once the advertisements end, the family files a PERM application (ETA Form 9089) with the DOL. After the DOL approves the PERM, the family files an I-140 petition with USCIS.

At this point, however, the process could slow down significantly. We'll explain why in the next section.

Waiting for an Available Green Card (or Immigrant Visa) for the Nanny

Congress places numerical limits on how many immigrants can receive green cards every year. A nanny is classified in the third preference of the employment-based visa system (EB-3). The EB-3 category is subdivided into three categories. Nannies are in the "Unskilled Worker" category, since they typically require less than two years of training or experience.

There are often more EB-3 unskilled worker immigrants applying for green cards than there are green cards available for this category of workers, so a waiting list typically forms. As of early 2024, there is a waiting list for around 12 years for people from India, a 3-year wait for people from China, and a wait of just over one year for everyone else.

Your nanny's place on the waiting list is based on the date that you filed the PERM application. That date becomes the nanny's "priority date," or place in line. The Department of State publishes a monthly Visa Bulletin showing the priority dates of the cases it can start receiving applications for, and start actually giving visas for.

Also see How Long Is the Wait for Your Priority Date to Become Current?

Nanny's Application for U.S. Permanent Residence

If your nanny is already in the U.S. legally, and has a current priority date, she can likely apply for permanent residence using a procedure called "adjustment of status" (on USCIS Form I-485). If coming from overseas, she would apply for an "immigrant visa" to come to the United States. She would automatically get a green card shortly after she enters the country.

If your nanny is in the U.S. unlawfully (after an illegal entry or overstaying a visa), it will be very difficult for her to obtain a green card based on her job with you (or on any other basis, for that matter). The reason for the difficulty is that the nanny would need to leave the U.S. and go to a U.S. consulate in her home country to receive an immigrant visa. A nanny who has been in the U.S. illegally for 180 days but less than one year will, upon leaving, trigger a three-year bar to reentry. If the nanny's illegal stay in the U.S. was for one year or longer, when she leaves (or gets deported) she will trigger a ten-year bar to reentry. (See Consequences of Unlawful Presence in the U.S.—Three– and Ten-Year Time Bars.) A few exceptions do exist, which you can read about in Who Can Apply for a Green Card Through Adjustment of Status. Due to the extreme complexities of unlawful presence situations, it is highly recommended you consult an immigration attorney if your nanny is, or has ever been, in the U.S. illegally.

Importantly, regardless of whether or not the nanny has immigration status issues, the priority date backlog for creates unique troubles for nannies from certain countries. Even when their priority date becomes current, to receive their green card they must show that they still intend to work for the family that sponsored them. However, by the time the priority date is current, the family's children will be much older and unlikely to require further services from a nanny!

There is no way around this priority date backlog hurdle—a nanny can get a green card only when the law allows her to. Therefore, it can be very difficult for families to obtain green cards for nannies.

Getting Legal Help

Given that your children's health and happiness is at stake, you would do well to hire an experienced immigration attorney to handle your nanny's visa case. The attorney can analyze the facts, spot any potential problems, suggest the most logical type of visa, prepare the paperwork, and monitor the progress toward approval.

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