Opinion Articles

Opinion pieces by Alliance staff.
The International Labor Recruitment Working Group (“ILR”) recently issued a report entitled, “Shortchanged: The Big Business Behind the Low Wage J-1 Au Pair Program” (the “Report”). The Report is replete with unfounded allegations and inaccuracies. It ignores the positive feedback the vast majority of au pairs provide regarding their experience, while attempting to discredit the important cultural exchange benefits the program provides.  Among other things:

  • Based upon interviews of only 16 current and former au pairs, out of a pool of approximately 150,000 just in the last ten years of this thirty-year old program, the Report claims that au pairs are unhappy with the program. According to a recent State Department presentation, 88% of au pairs reported in exit surveys that they were satisfied with the Au Pair Program, while only 4% report that they were dissatisfied. (The balance did not answer.) Many au pairs even extend their participation, voluntarily, beyond their first year.
  • The Report fails to recognize important oversight provided by the United States Department of State. For example, the Report ignores the fact that sponsors submit detailed, annual reports prepared by independent auditors that help ensure sponsors’ compliance with applicable regulations.
  • The Report wrongly suggests that au pairs have no recourse if a host family wants them to perform more work than is permitted. In fact, each au pair is assigned a local representative who, by regulatory requirement, must reside near the au pair and must make monthly personal contact. Au pairs have other resources as well including the entire full time staff of each program sponsor. Additional support includes the State Department’s toll-free “J-1 Visa Emergency Helpline” telephone number, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as well an au pair-specific email to report any concerns. On the Exchange Visitor section of the State Department’s own website, they provide the contact information for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and the Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force.
  • The Report repeats the disputed assertion that Sponsors have somehow improperly limited au pair stipends paid by host families to $4.35 per hour. At most, the sponsors passed along the minimum stipend amount calculated by the State Department and issued publicly in State Department notices, which is an amount that families are free to exceed. Moreover, the Report fails to acknowledge the many other benefits – monetary and otherwise — that these young cultural exchange visitors experience when they are invited to enjoy American life and culture and are welcomed as members of the family into the homes and lives of their hosts.

Over more than three decades, the Au Pair Program has allowed hundreds of thousands of young persons from around the world to come to the United States, live with a family, improve their English language skills, and be immersed in American culture. Even if a limited number of host families and au pairs do not follow the rules, the sponsors and the State Department work diligently to find those violations and address them. Any violation of the program regulations is unacceptable and must be addressed appropriately.  However, the allegations described in these limited cases were made anonymously and sponsors have not been given the opportunity to be made aware of who they are so that they can be properly addressed. The Report ignores the support resources that are available to au pairs, the commitment to addressing concerns by the program sponsors as well as the transformative cultural exchange benefits of the program, and offers a jaundiced presentation that is neither objective or accurate.