Adios Agata? The Exodus of Au Pairs From Britain:

“When our current au pair leaves, I’ll be left without child-care and will probably have to stop working” There’s no way I can afford a live-in nanny”. That’s how a Devonshire-based consultant surgeon foresees his situation if the future immigration status of au pairs has not been resolved by the time the UK’s one-year Brexit transition period ends on 1st January 2021. What particularly infuriates him, he declared to Anna Cooban, a journalist with the South West Londoner weekly newspaper, is the perception of au pairs as “an option for the upper middle classes who want to neglect their children”. This is an image which, as Cooban observed in her article, has proved difficult to dispel.

Similarly, Cheryl Newbury, a single mother-of-two, a nurse and a deputy ward manager in Weston-Super-Mare, told the Sky News correspondent Dan Whitehead that it would be “disastrous” for her if this type of domestic help is no longer available, her career would suffer, she wouldn’t be able to work and could even lose her home.

Jamie Shackell, the chair of the British Au Pair Agencies Association (BAPAA) is acutely aware of such concerns and the reasons for them, pointing out to Cooban that there are thousands of families across the UK who are key workers (such as those employed on a “shift” basis), who rely on au pairs for the flexibility it provides and who would be “financially crippled without them”. In March, the Home Office confirmed to BAPAA that the Government’s new points-based employer-led immigration system does not recognise au pairs because they are not legally classified as “employees”.

This has resulted in the International Au Pair Association (IAPA) querying on October 29th whether it in practice signalled the end of the Au Pair Programme in the UK. Quoting BAPAA statistics, IAPA noted that the estimated numbers of au pairs coming to the UK from the European Union has declined by 75% since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and that unless the government agrees to the creation of a special visa category, they could virtually disappear from the British domestic scene.

The two associations acknowledge that this sector is quite small, since only around 7% of UK families with children say they hosted an au pair in 2019 – 2020. However, they emphasise that “although this may not sound a lot, it equates to 1.4 million households”. Research conducted by the “Surveygoo”market

consultants on behalf of BAPAA has shown that 75% of parents who rely on au pairs for childcare say the other options are too expensive for them, 41% say they would have to switch to part-time employment, 26% would have to stop working altogether and 79% think the UK should adopt an official Au Pair Visa programme.

Traditionally, 24% of au pairs come from France, 13% from Germany, 12% from Spain and 11% from Italy. After 1st January, they will no longer have freedom of movement to the UK. If they are already here and they wish to stay legally, they must apply for “pre-settlement status”, along with proof of identity and address, before 31st December 2020. The Evening Standard columnist, Ana Davis, reported on 9th November that the Home Office has suggested that the Youth Mobility Scheme” (YMS) which “currently applies to citizens from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan” provides a viable alternative.

BAPAA disagrees, considering this to be “a less than ideal route for European au pairs into Britain as YMS applicants must prove that they have at least £1,890 in personal savings – a difficult requirement for young people in their late teens and early twenties to meet”.

There are those, however, who will welcome the fact that the post-Brexit regulations will put a stop to what they regard as the exploitation of a vulnerable workforce. Rosie Cox, co-author of “As An Equal? Au Pairing In the 21st Century” and professor of geography at Birkbeck College, University of London, has pointed out in an article for the Guardian that “Since 2008, au pairs have been specifically excluded from the legal definition of “worker” or “employee”: they have no right to the national minimum wage, they are not covered by health and safety regulations, there are no limits to their working hours and they have no legal right to holidays or any time off”.

Together with Nicky Busch, a fellow-academic, Cox has analysed online ads and found that the average au pair is expected to work 38.7 hours per week (gov.uk recommends just 30 pw) and although the average “pocket money”offered is £108 pw, the duties often include not only help with childcare and housework, but also shopping,cleaning windows, caring for relatives’ children, waitressing or cooking for dinner parties, gardening, teaching a child a language, and more. “Childcare.co.uk” adds washing upholstery, carpets and the family car or doing the ironing and bed changing for parents to the heavier tasks that au pairs should not be asked to carry out.

In a Guardian feature captioned “Not Quite Mary Poppins” (the magical Disney nanny), Maggie Dyer, Director of the London Au Pair and Nanny Agency, admitted she is continually shocked by what some people believe they are entitled to demand of an au pair and agreed that it could sometimes be depicted as “the new slavery”.

The International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWFED) is adamant that “the first step in protecting au pairs is to recognise that they are workers so that their role is encompassed in employment laws and they can access fair pay and visa conditions appropriate to the work they do.”

Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Society | Posted on November 22nd, 2020 by Colin D Gordon

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