If you’ve looked into hosting an Au Pair, you may have asked Google, “Can I find an Au Pair without an agency?”
The short answer is both yes and no.
It’s Difficult to Find an Au Pair Without an Agency. Only Designated Au Pair Agencies Can Sponsor a J-1 Visa for Au Pairs.
According to State Department regulations (e-CFR §62.31), only designated sponsor agencies are able to sponsor an Au Pair visa.
There are sixteen designated Au Pair agencies in the U.S. To bring an Au Pair into the U.S. on the J-1 Visa, you would have to work with one of those sixteen agencies.
So in this sense, no, you cannot find an Au Pair without an agency.
Au Pair Program in the United States
The U.S. is one of the only countries that have a government-regulated Au Pair program. This is a vital factor in ensuring Au Pairs have protection while in the U.S.
According to the State Department, the purpose of the program is to create an environment in which “foreign nationals are afforded the opportunity to live with an American host family and participate directly in the home life of the host family” [§62.31 (a)].
The State Department’s requirements for visa sponsorship protects Au Pairs.
For example, if a family sponsored the visa themselves, in a worst-case scenario they might try to manipulate their Au Pair by holding the visa hostage.
Au Pairs have the right to give notice at any time, especially if they feel their safety is at risk. But in this scenario, a family could threaten to revoke visa sponsorship if the Au Pair wanted to leave.
This is illegal (in fact, it’s one of the signs of human trafficking), and something the State Department wants to prevent at all costs.
Keeping the sponsor agencies in charge of the Au Pairs’ visa sponsorship, the State Department eliminates the possibility of this happening. Under the current structure of the Au Pair program, only the agency has final say regarding an Au Pair’s visa status.
Could I Hire an Au Pair Under a Different Visa Program?
You could theoretically find an Au Pair without an agency by hiring someone from overseas through a different visa program. Many Host Families look into programs like the F-1 Student Visa. But each visa program has its own requirements that can make it challenging to find adequate childcare.
F-1 Student Visa Requirements & Challenges
For example, the F-1 Visa requires students to be enrolled full-time, and the visa only lasts as long as the educational program itself. It only costs a few hundred dollars to sponsor the visa itself, but sponsors agree to pay the student’s tuition.
So in theory, an international student could stay with you twice as long as an Au Pair. But as full-time students, they would have far less availability for childcare.
The F-1 Visa has strict work restrictions that make it challenging to hire an F-1 student as a nanny.
In fact, F-1 Visa students are only allowed to work part-time. The hourly allotment pales in comparison to an Au Pair’s ability to work 45 hours/ week or 10 hours/ day.
There are further work restrictions with the F-1 Visa. Students cannot work off-campus during their first academic year. This means you would be investing thousands of dollars in tuition money without receiving any childcare for one year.
Additionally, any off-campus employment must be directly related to their area of study. So, the only way you could legally hire an F-1 student as your nanny would be to hire someone who’s studying childcare management or child development. This severely limits your candidate pool.
Au Pairs on the J-1 Visa also have time to find a school after they arrive in the U.S. But F-1 Visa holders must be accepted to a program before they can leave their home country. Additionally, F-1 students can only attend schools that are approved by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program.
Not only does this increase the difficulty in obtaining a visa in the first place, but it also places a heavy burden on you, as the visa sponsor, to help the student if they can’t get approved on their own.
Au Pair agencies take on this burden so you don’t have to. And because our staff works with the consulate in each country on a regular basis, we already a rapport with them. This makes it easier to identify, in some cases, why a visa was denied and how to help someone get approval.
So, while an F-1 Visa may cost significantly less, it may not be the best option for families who need childcare.
The F-1 Visa program doesn’t exactly offer the same types of candidates as the Au Pair Program.
The truth is, Au Pairs typically join the program because they love children. Many of them want to pursue careers in childcare and education in the future.
Hiring someone who has a different motivation, like higher education, could mean that you’re getting someone whose heart isn’t in it.
Candidates who sign up through Au Pair agencies usually want to become part of your family. A full-time student may not have time for that.
H1-B Work Visa Requirements & Challenges
The H1-B Work Visa allows international visitors to work in the U.S. Candidates must have a Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent experience in the field of employment. This visa costs around $5,000.
This may sound like a viable alternative to the J-1 Visa. But it’s important to note that you would be in competition with every company in the U.S. looking to sponsor H1-B Visas.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) gives out just 65,000 of these visas each year. 20,000 of these visas are reserved solely for applicants with advanced degrees. Another 6,800 are set aside for trade agreements, leaving just 26,800 visas for companies to compete over.
CIS opens this visa every April, meaning you can’t just hire an H1-B Visa worker any time of the year.
According to the Department of Labor, “The intent of the H-1B provisions is to help employers who cannot otherwise obtain needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce.”
So, you also run the risk that CIS will see your petition as unnecessary. The U.S. has many qualified childcare providers, so proving that you need a foreigner’s skills could be challenging.
If you still wanted to move forward, you would have to fill out a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) before filing a visa petition. Your LCA must demonstrate that you have a sufficient cash flow to pay your employee throughout their stay.
Applying costs $4,000, so if your petition is denied, it will cost you a pretty penny.
Cost considerations with the H1-B Visa…
If your petition is approved, you will have other costs to consider. Unlike Au Pairs, H1-B workers must be paid according to state minimum wage and overtime laws.
If your state’s minimum wage is on the high end, say $10, you will easily end up paying $475/ week for 45 hours of childcare. Including the cost of sponsorship (but not the cost of housing and amenities), you would pay roughly $29,700/ year.
This is almost double what you would pay in the Au Pair Program, even with housing and amenities!
Even if your state’s minimum wage is as low as it gets– $7.25/ hour at the time of this article’s publication– you would still pay around $22,888/ year, which is significantly higher than working with an Au Pair agency.
There are many other visa programs, such as the H2-B Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers Visa. This visa is similar to the H1-B Visa, and allows workers to stay for up to 1 year. Each visa program has its own requirements and challenges. Working with an agency just simplifies the process and research for families.
What About Finding an Au Pair Who’s American?
In theory, you could find an Au Pair without an agency if you restrict your search to Americans. Sites like Care.com offer families a candidate pool of local live-in nannies. For a monthly fee, you can use the platform to find your ideal candidate.
However, with an American nanny, you lose many of the advantages of hosting an Au Pair.
You would have to pay a local nanny according to state minimum wage and overtime laws. While this may not be a problem for you, many nannies have restricted hours and pay demands, including charging per child, per hour. (Au Pair vs Nanny: The cost of hosting an Au Pair remains the same regardless of the number of children).
Most parents prefer someone who’s 100% dedicated to their kids and the job. There’s less of a conflict of interests when a foreigner comes to live in your home.
J-1 Au Pairs don’t have other local obligations to distract them from work.
Au Pairs on the J-1 Visa come here with the goal of becoming part of your family. It’s much less likely that they’ll no-show for work on their BFF’s birthday. Or suddenly jump ship for another job. (In fact, Au Pairs cannot hold another job while here in the U.S).
Many families love the added benefit of language immersion when hosting an Au Pair. An American may or may not be a native speaker of another language. So, the likelihood of hiring a native speaker decreases significantly if you narrow your search to U.S. candidates.
(Since all Au Pairs are from another country, you can safely say that 98% of them are native speakers of another language. Discounting countries like the UK, of course).
You may find a good nanny candidate on a site like Care.com. However, these candidates aren’t truly Au Pairs, because they aren’t “young foreign person who cares for children and does domestic work for a family in return for room and board” (Miriam-Webster Dictionary).
The phrase “Au Pair” is French for “on par” or “on equal terms.” It’s meant to imply that an Au Pair is your equal in the household. They’re a member of the family.
Hiring an American nanny is fine if that’s what you’re after. But when you enter into an employee-employer relationship, you aren’t “on equal terms.” Your nanny may not become part of your family. And a nanny, no matter how great, doesn’t typically offer the same flexibility and peace of mind as an Au Pair.
Are you hesitant to work with an Au Pair agency?
We’d love to hear about your experience, concerns, or frustrations. To get in touch with someone who’s dedicated to helping you cultivate an amazing childcare experience, email marketing (at) goaupair (dot) com.