U.S. State Department plans increased scrutiny of au pair agencies

Jan. 25, 2014 at 3:48 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- The State Department plans to review what an official called "areas of weakness" in the program that brings young women to the United States as au pairs.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robin Lerner said the review will include a close look at the agencies that bring young childcare givers from overseas together with their host families, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The department may review how the agencies train their field representatives and monitor placements to ensure au pairs are not overworked, underpaid or sexually exploited.

About 14,000 people, mostly women, come to the United States on what is treated as a cultural exchange program. They are supposed to be no older than 26 and expected to provide 45 hours of childcare a week in return for room and board, $260 a week and some money towards education.

"There are areas of weakness that we should address," Lerner said.

The au pairs enter the United States on J-1 Visitors Exchange visas, which are also used for young foreigners taking seasonal jobs at ski resorts and amusement parks. They can remain in the country for up to two years.

Julie Garcia, a former au pair in California who blogged about the experience, told the Journal that a lot of abuse is never reported. Many au pairs "are afraid they'll end up on the street" if they complain, she said.

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