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J-1 Visa Visitor Exchange Program: Au Pair

The United States Department of State administers a variety of cultural exchange programs through its J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program. Fifteen total programs are offered which allow individuals from outside the United States to experience what it’s like to live in the United States. One of the 15 programs offered is the Au Pair program and you should discuss with your immigration attorney whether or not you are eligible for this or any other program and the steps you should take to give yourself the best opportunity to secure a J-1 visa.

The Au Pair Program

The Au Pair program allows individuals from outside the United States to spend 12 months living with a host family in the United States. The individual will provide childcare to the host family and take classes from a college or university, all while experiencing everyday life in the United States. By becoming an Au Pair, an individual will receive the following benefits:

  • Academic credit
  • A weekly stipend
  • Childcare experience
  • Professional childcare training
  • Two weeks paid vacation
  • Up to $500 to pay for the cost of academic course work
  • Free room and board including a private room and three meals a day
  • The opportunity to experience what it’s like to live in the United States for an extended period of time, including inclusion in the host family’s meals, vacations and special events
  • Have at least one full weekend off from work each month

Once the program has been completed after 12 months (although it can be extended for an additional six, nine or 12 months), the Au Pair will return to his or her home country.

Au Pair Eligibility

To become an Au Pair, an individual must:

  • Be between the ages of 18 and 26
  • Be able to speak and understand English proficiently
  • Have successfully completed secondary school
  • Be physically capable of providing care to a young child
  • Have a clean criminal record

Depending on the host family’s preferences and the age and condition of their child, the Au Pair must also:

  • Not smoke
  • Have a driver’s license
  • Have at least 200 hours of childcare experience with infants under two years of age
  • Experience caring for a “special needs” child
How to Become an Au Pair

To become an Au Pair, the individual must use a designated program sponsor. The purpose of the sponsor is to help administer the Au Pair program. The sponsor screens potential applicants, serves as an intermediary between the individual and host family, provides training and orientation to recent Au Pair arrivals and ensures the Au pair and host family are in compliance with program rules

There are currently 17 designated sponsors, which can be found at the Au Pair Program page on the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program website. The individual will apply to one of these sponsor organizations, which will then interview and test the individual to make sure they are suited to be a childcare provider. The sponsor will also conduct necessary background checks.

Once accepted by the sponsor, the individual will receive at least 32 hours of child development and safety training. The individual will sign a contract that outlines the exact requirements and expectations for the Au Pair arrangement.

After arriving in the United States, the sponsor will provide an orientation to reiterate the program’s requirements and provide advice on living in the United States, such as specific cultural practices, what to do in an emergency and how to obtain required health insurance coverage.

Requirements, Restrictions and Limitations for Au Pairs

In addition to providing childcare duties for the host family, there are other requirements and limitations individuals will have to comply with, including:

  • Work no more than 10 hours a day and 45 hours in a week
  • Attend an accredited postsecondary school and take a minimum of six credit hours
  • The host family must not be relatives of the Au Pair
  • If the host family has a child less than three months of age, an Au Pair cannot be placed with them unless another responsible adult will also be present at the home
  • If the host family has a child with special needs, the Au Pair must show prior experience and training to care for the special needs child
  • If the host family has a child less than two years of age, the Au Pair will need to provide evidence of at least 200 hours experience in providing infant childcare
  • Au Pairs must have health insurance that provides certain minimum benefits

EduCare is very similar to the regular Au Pair program, but since the EduCare Au Pairs will be placed with host families that have older children who attend school full-time, there will be less need for childcare services. The EduCare program is similar to the regular Au Pair program, with the following major differences:

  • Au Pairs may not work more than 30 hours per week
  • Au Pairs receive only 75% of the weekly stipend regular Au Pairs receive
  • Au Pairs must take at least 12 credit hours of classes from an accredited postsecondary school
  • Au Pairs may receive up to $1,000 to pay for the cost of schooling
  • If the host family has a child in preschool, the Au Pair cannot be placed with them unless there is another adult to provide full-time supervision to the child
What if the Au Pair Wants to Stay in the United States After Being an Au Pair?

For the most part, an Au Pair cannot stay in the United States after completion of the Au Pair program. While there is a way to extend the Au Pair program by up to 12 months, once this extension is over, the Au Pair must return back to the home country for at least two years. The Au Pair may not remain in the United States through an adjustment of status (such as getting a Green Card) or by getting a different visa.

There is a waiver for this two year requirement that you can examine with your immigration lawyer, but it will only be granted if one of the following can be shown:

  • A “no-objection” statement from the Au Pair’s home country, stating that the home country has no problem if the Au Pair doesn’t return home

  • A US citizen or permanent resident would experience a severe hardship if the Au Pair had to return to the home country

  • Persecution if forced to return home

  • The US government has an interest in keeping the Au Pair in the United States

Is the Au Pair Visa Right for You

Being an Au Pair may not be easy, but it may be the means for you to experience the United States. However, merely because you are legally here with a J-1 visa does not give you the ability to remain in perpetuity. Should you want the opportunity to remain in the United States after your days as an Au Pair are over, it is critical that you handle the processes and procedures in the correct manner or you can compromise the very thing you want to secure.

Call the New York immigration lawyers and former New York City prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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