As published in Medium on September 14, 2020.
Families are managing challenges with their children going back to school in a world that certainly looks different than it did last September. Many school districts have returned to classes virtually and parents continue to work from home. Now, more than ever, families are looking for childcare solutions to meet the moment. One popular option is the U.S. State Department Au Pair program. The federal Au Pair program is a cultural exchange program that enables young people between the ages of 18 and 26 years old to experience life with an American family.
This week, EurekaFacts (an independent research firm) released one of the most comprehensive Au Pair program reports to date. EurekaFacts surveyed 10,881 au pair participant alumni and 6,452 host families to determine the impact of the program. By all objective measures, the report demonstrates the overwhelming success and positive impact of the Au Pair program. The report corroborates the very positive annual reports of program sponsors (the U.S. Department of State, which oversees the program, requires annual audits). The report confirms that: the program provides flexible and dependable childcare support for American families, while supporting economic growth; the program serves as an invaluable foreign policy tool; and au pair participants and host families are satisfied with their experience.
Ameena, an au pair host parent in Missouri explains, “As a dual-physician household, our childcare needs are unique and variable due to our work schedules and having no family in the city where we live. We considered many local childcare options and have had great difficulty in finding a solution. The Au Pair program provides a trustworthy and reliable way to provide secure childcare while at the same time broadening our children’s cultural experiences. We had a successful and extremely positive experience with our first au pair over the past year.”
The Au Pair program provides participants with broad exposure to American culture and society and fosters greater knowledge and appreciation among Americans of the participants’ home countries. According to the EurekaFact’s survey, 97 percent of au pair alumni gained a better understanding of American culture during their time in the United States.
Laura, au pair host parent in California explains, “During these unprecedented times, the Au Pair program has been such a cultural and personal blessing. Not only is my daughter, now two years old, learning about the South African culture through our exceptional au pair, I am able to care for our newborn during the uncertainty of the COVID 19 crisis. We are middle class Americans, and the Au Pair program has allowed both of us to work in a major U.S. city. Using our skills and talents to directly impact the healthcare and education industry would not be possible without our au pair.”
The EurkaFacts report demonstrates that the Au Pair program is additionally an important tool for economic growth. Au pairs spend approximately $257 million per year on items such as food, entertainment, and travel in the U.S.
Critics of the program have argued that many au pairs are not satisfied with the program. EurekaFacts, however, concludes that the criticisms of program opponents are unfounded. According to EurekaFacts, critics leverage “very little supporting data from program participants, elevate the opinions of those whose experiences are the exception, and are at odds with the vast majority of au pair experiences.” EurekaFacts finds that 90 percent of au pairs rated their experience in the U.S. as excellent or good. The program is exceedingly popular and grows largely through word of mouth. 86 percent of host families are very likely or somewhat likely to recommend becoming a host family to friends or family in the future.
The Administration through its June 22 presidential proclamation suspended issuing visas for most au pair participants through the end of December. The EurekaFacts report, however, demonstrates the critical nature of this program. With numerous challenges during these uncertain times, the Au Pair program remains a lifeline for many families including the ability for host parents to be able to work full-time. Importantly, the program also enriches international participants and creates lasting relationships with their American host families. For all these reasons, the Administration should resume issuing visas for participants of international exchange programs, including those hoping to join American families as an au pair.
Ilir Zherka is the Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange.