Thousands of parents were put on edge a month ago when they began receiving e-mails from au pair agencies imploring them to oppose a provision of the immigration reform bill that the agencies said would “create more regulatory complexity” for host families and “endanger the future of this important cultural exchange program.”
Now, weeks of behind-the-scenes wrangling among au pair agencies, workers rights advocates and employers have yielded a compromise that the agencies say will keep them in business but that worker advocates say does not go far enough to protect exchange students from exploitation.
At the center of the dispute is the J-1 visa program, created more than 50 years ago to facilitate educational and cultural exchange. The State Department oversees the program, which it views as a tool of diplomacy. But worker advocates say the State Department is not equipped to police what has become the nation’s largest guest-worker program. About 350,000 people enter the country under J-1 visas each year, and about 20,000 of those are au pairs, said Susan Pittman, a State Department spokeswoman. The largest group are summer workers hired by places such as amusement parks, resorts and pools.