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Live-in childcare as “cultural exchange” $4.35 an hour, tax free

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Live-in child care for less than $200.00 a week? Sounds like a bargain. Known as au pair cultural exchange programs, a.k.a., “live-in nannies” from a foreign country is even popular with one member of Gov. Kay Ivey’s Administration.

Au pair is French for (on par with).

Au Pair International, which supplies young girls for American families from countries such as Argentina, Thailand, and even a few from England, offers an International stock of nannies, who enter the USA on J-1 visas which usually last for 12 months. They are classified as “cultural exchange participants.”

However, Janie A. Chuang, (Professor of Law, American University, Washington College of Law) in an exhaustive study, shows how, “the legal categorization of au pairs as ‘cultural exchange participants’ is strategically used to sustain and disguise a government-created domestic worker program which provides flexible, in-home child care for upper-middle-class families at below-market prices.” Chuang also found “The ‘cultural exchange’ subterfuge has created an underclass of migrant domestic workers conceptually and structurally removed from the application of labor standards and the scrutiny of labor institutions.”

According to Au Pair International, an au pair’s age is between 18- 26 years old. They must be healthy, speak conversational English, and have a desire to help children. The au pair agrees to work 45 hours a week or 10 hours a day, which includes child care and housekeeping, as it relates to the children.

The host family agrees to give the young woman a weekly stipend of at least $195.00 a week and provide food and shelter. An example is Diana C. from Colombia. Her bio says, “I have a degree in Architecture, very good English and coach children’s sports!” Wilaiwan K. from Thailand has teaching experience and “LOVE to do art projects!”

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Whether from Colombia, Thailand, or Russia, each young female ends her introduction sentence with an exclamation point.

Professor Chuang, writing for the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, sees something far more sinister behind the happy faces and excited punctuation. “{T]he ‘cultural exchange’ rhetoric used in the au pair program regulations and practice reifies harmful class, gender, and racial biases and tropes that feed society’s stubborn resistance to valuing domestic work as work worthy of labor protection.”

Chuang concludes together, these dynamics render au pairs vulnerable to abuse and threaten to undermine the tremendous gains otherwise being made on behalf of domestic workers’ rights. She also found the “cultural exchange” rubric enables the US government to house the program under the Department of State rather than Labor and to delegate oversight of this government program to private recruitment agencies that have strong financial incentives to overlook and even hide worker exploitation.

An article in The Guardian quotes Maggie Dyer, Director of the London Au Pair and Nanny Agency, saying “The families think they are the vulnerable ones letting a stranger into the house, but at least if there is a problem they can solve it quickly. These girls are so vulnerable. They only get a little bit of pocket money, and if they lose their job they have nowhere to live, so they often will be far too frightened to complain if they are being maltreated. They can find themselves out on their ear without warning, and if they haven’t found a new family within seven days, they are required to return to their home country.”

Just this March Politico published a report tiled, “They think we are slaves” states, ‘Letters obtained by Politico Magazine show consultants urging au pairs to work additional hours or do work unrelated to child care. One consultant’s guide for new au pairs suggests doing extra child care during their time off, like when they go to a restaurant with the family. ‘You are not a guest, you are a part of the family,’ the guide says.’

Many au pairs report positive experiences, but most would like more than the $4.35 an hour they are paid. The calculation is determined by the agencies which set an au pairs wages at $195.75 per week for 45 hours of work; the $4.35 an hour comes from subtracting 40 percent from federal minimum wage for room and board. According to the report in Politico, “Labor rights organizations call this a legally dubious arrangement for several reasons, including because deducting housing costs in programs where providing housing primarily benefits the employer (like the au pair program) isn’t allowed by law.”

Gov. Ivey’s “chief” legal counsel Bryan Taylor has an au pair throughout Au Pair International. In fact, during the 2017 Legislative Session, he brought his children and their au pair to the State House introducing her to several lawmakers. Taylor, who as a State Senator strongly supported Alabama’s failed Immigration law known as HB56, has pictures of his children’s current and past au pair on his family Facebook page. According to Jessica Taylor’s social media post, the Taylors have three small children currently cared for by a British au pair; their Facebook page also feature a young woman from Argentina.

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Coming to Alabama on a J-1 Exchange Visitor Program might be a dream come true. The Taylor’s Facebook page shows a happy au pair and children. The Taylors even recommended the service to a friend. Jessica Taylor told a friend on social media, “Our agency is Au Pair International. Let me know if you are interested!”

There’s that exclamation mark again.


Bill Britt
Written By

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.



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