The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) claims in a new report that thousands of au pairs who come to the U.S. each year are treated as underpaid domestic servants.
The U.S. State Department runs an au pair program that claims to provide a "mutually rewarding, intercultural opportunity" to U.S. host families and non-U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 26. Benefits for participants include room, board, pay for childcare work, and up to $500 toward academic work.
However, in reality, because the program is not well-regulated, many hosts require au pairs to perform non-childcare tasks banned under the program. According to the NDWA, many of the tens of thousands of au pairs participating in the program work more than 45 hours cleaning, cooking, and gardening.
The report also found that Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections are not enforced and au pairs receive a flat, weekly rate that equates to $4.35 per hour. Nearly half of the au pairs interviewed had paid between $1,500 and $2,500 in recruitment and sponsor fees to participate in the program.
In response, more than 900,000 current and former au pairs filed a class action lawsuit and have alleged "that 15 agencies designated by the State Department as au pair sponsors violated minimum and overtime laws."
Similarly, the State Department's J-1 Summer Work Travel Program has faced criticism for a lack of oversight and violations of FLSA labor laws. In 2011, participants working at a Hershey's chocolate factor staged a walk out, alleging the employer threatened them with deportation if they complained about abusive working conditions. In 2013, foreign college students on cultural work exchange visas went on strike, alleging that they had to work 20 hour shifts at McDonald's and pay unfairly high rent for cramped quarters. Kate Gibson "'Au pairs' in U.S. often treated as servants, critics say" cbsnews.com (Aug. 20, 2018).