Getting J-1 Visa to Work as an Au Pair Riskier Than Applicants Realize

Multiple news reports indicate that there has been less State Department oversight of the au pair program than one might expect, leading to situations where au pairs have been overworked, underpaid, and taken advantage of in more serious ways.

** LEGAL UPDATE **

Every year, thousands of young people (ages 18 to 26) from around the world apply to come to the U.S. to live with a family as an "au pair," caring for their children.

The program is based on U.S. immigration law (I.N.A. § 101(a)(15)(J)) and administered through the U.S. Department of State (DOS). It requires obtaining a J-1 visa. However, DOS delegates most of the organizing of placements and so on to private "designated sponsor organizations."

In theory, the program provides a positive experience for both the U.S. family and the au pair. The family gets up to 45 hours a week of child care, while the au pair receives help learning English, some education, an American cultural experience, a small amount of pay, and one weekend off per month.

Multiple news reports, however, indicate that there has been less State Department oversight than one might expect. This has led to situations where au pairs have been overworked, underpaid, and taken advantage of in more serious ways.

In fact, a number of au pairs recently brought legal claims against the sponsoring agencies that act as intermediaries, resulting in a large proposed financial settlement of $65.5 million.

The au pair program is ongoing, but anyone considering signing up to serve as an au pair in the United States should consider the risks of encountering what others in the program allegedly have, for example:

  • low wages (not even reaching state minimum wage levels)
  • no overtime pay; not even when mandated by law and state minimum wage laws
  • inappropriate assignment of duties, such as helping families move to a new home, feed chickens, and tend the garden, and
  • isolation, for example because the family will not allow the au pair to dine with them.

Also, if you were an au pair in the U.S. on a J-1 visa between January 1, 2009, and October 28, 2018, keep an eye on the news and the email address you used then; lawyers may be in touch about your share of the settlement once it's been finalized.

Effective date: January 18, 2019