Washington Cracks Down On Au Pairs

While we’re on the immigration bill let’s not forget the law of unintended consequences. The potential victims, or at least one of them, or at least one of the potential victims are au pairs. The new law changes their status, certainly for some good reason you and I cannot fathom. From the WSJ:

The bipartisan Senate immigration bill passed in committee on Tuesday and is expected to go before the full Senate for consideration in early June. At issue is a provision of the bill that would bar any labor contractor from charging a fee to foreign workers being brought into the country. Supporters say the measure is aimed at preventing the exploitation of foreign workers.

The roughly 13,000 au pairs who enter the U.S. each year are considered participants in an “exchange visitor program” run by the State Department. The Senate bill would change their status to “workers,” meaning the new bar on charging upfront fees would apply to them.

Most au pairs have to pay fees to enter the program. For instance, child-care workers with Au Pair in America, a State Department-approved sponsor program, pay an average of around $1,500 in fees to agencies in their home countries and to the U.S. agency for visas, training, health insurance and other support services, estimated Ruth Ferry, the program’s director. However, au pairs from developing countries often have to pay agencies in their home countries steeper fees, experts said. If au pairs aren’t allowed to pay a fee, that could increase what the agencies charge host families.

Now I know this isn’t going to cause a lot of angst out there given the relative income levels of most families that retain au pairs, and I’m probably on your side. Maybe I can stir up a bit of outrage with this part of the law.

The Senate bill would also expand the government’s oversight of the au pair program to the Department of Homeland Security and Labor Department, to prevent abuses of foreign workers.

Supporters of the changes say they are meant to protect au pairs. Prohibiting upfront fees is important because it eliminates one reason au pairs can be reluctant to leave even miserable work situations, said American University law professor Janie Chuang, author of an upcoming article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender on labor exploitation in the au pair program.

OK you might not be terribly concerned about the “Acela corridor crowd” getting visits from the Labor Department but at least concede that this is truly taking the regulatory state to somewhat ridiculous levels. And by the way, does a university law professor penning an article on labor exploitation in the au pair program strike you as ¬†somewhat superfluous?

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