State Department Set to Defend Low Wages for Foreign Au Pair Program

Au Pair with a Child
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

The State Department is set to defend a cheap foreign labor program that delivers thousands of au pairs to upper-middle-class and wealthy households at below-market wages.

In December 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reaffirmed a lower court’s ruling in the state of Massachusetts that foreign au pairs who arrive on J-1 visas are entitled to a state’s minimum wage for payment.

Before the court ruling, foreign au pairs only had to be paid by their American employers about $195 a week, free room and board, and $500 a year had to go toward the au pair’s schooling.

The below-market wage means wealthy American households can import foreign au pairs on the J-1 visa for less than $11,000 a year with a mandate that the au pair work for 45 hours every week. This equates to a wage rate of about $4.33 an hour.

The court ruling, though, has forced wages up for foreign au pairs.

Now, a foreign au pair in Massachusetts, for example, must be paid at least $528 a week to comply with the state’s $12.75 hourly minimum wage requirement.

A State Department official confirmed to Law360 that the agency, which administers the J-1 visa program, is looking to defend the foreign au pair program’s below-market wages. In a new regulation, the State Department will “clarify that the program is governed by federal and not state law” in an attempt to buck the court’s ruling.

“How can [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] … say with a straight face that foreign child care workers should be paid less than U.S. child care workers,” Center for Immigration Studies’ Director of Policy Jessica Vaughan wrote in a post. “And why does State want to keep a program that provides zero or negative public diplomacy value?”

In 2018, the foreign au pair program delivered more than 20,600 young people to upper-middle-class and wealthy households in the U.S. Nearly 60 percent of all foreign au pairs go to households in California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois, where there is a concentration of wealth.

Foreign au pairs on J-1 visas have chronicled for years in U.S. media outlets their disdain for the program. In January, an au pair from Colombia told the New York Times that her host family had kicked her out of their home when she complained about her 65-hour work week.

“Being an au pair was the worst experience I ever had in my 38 years of my life,” Claudia Villamizar told the Times.

John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter at @JxhnBinder.

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