The Legal Aspects of Hosting an Au Pair – What You Need to Know

Lynn Martelli
Lynn Martelli

Host families are a bit nervous about this month’s court ruling that au pairs are domestic workers and should therefore be protected by state labor laws. They want to know: What does this mean for them?

They must deal more directly with local counselors, who oversee au pair placements and family issues.

Background Checks

The au pair program is administered by the State Department. Still, most families work with an intermediary agency (Cultural Care, Au Pair in America, and Au Pair in Canada are a few big ones) to vet applicants, perform background checks and match them with host families. These agencies take on the visa and related administrative hassles for a fee.

In the United States, au pairs are on duty 10 hours a day and 45 hours a week and are paid for their time, even when taking time off or attending classes. They must be able to speak the family’s language, as well as the language of their home country.

The au pair stipend counts as wages, meaning the government requires host families to withhold federal income taxes from their au pair’s weekly paychecks and report those deductions on Form W-2, Household Employer’s Tax Return. However, some hosts may pay their au pair in cash instead, circumvents federal income-tax rules. According to labor-rights groups, That violates the regulations for the State Department’s au pair program.

Visa Requirements

Programs like Go Au Pair allows foreign nationals to live with a host family while working part-time to support themselves and attend school. As such, it may be an ideal option for people looking to make the United States their long-term home. Before you sponsor someone through this program, though, it is essential to understand the legal implications involved. An experienced immigration attorney can help you examine the process and determine whether it is right for you.

Once the au pair is matched with a family, they will participate in a five-day orientation program provided by their agency. The agency will also send the au pair’s application to the U.S. embassy or consulate in their country of origin, where they must attend an interview.

When the visa is approved, the host family will receive Form DS-2019. This must be mailed in a pre-paid, priority envelope from the Postal Service to ensure it arrives on time. Once the DS-2019 expires, the Au Pair must apply for an extension to remain in the United States.

Working Hours

Historically, au pairs were women from abroad who lived with host families in exchange for room and board and child care. They would help with household chores and enroll in classes to complete their academic requirements.

But the au pair program has become a big business where agencies recruit au pairs worldwide and charge host families hefty fees. This arrangement can lead to unreasonable expectations, which has led to cases of abuse.

Host families and au pairs must follow specific guidelines regarding working hours, pocket money, and appropriate au pair duties. The boundaries between work and leisure time are often fluid, and clear agreements must be made continuously.

For example, it is not uncommon for au pairs to be invited to join the family for meals, holiday parties, and vacation travel. While these activities may be considered “work,” au couples should be given a weekend off every month and two weeks of paid vacation. They must also be provided with a private bedroom, meals, and up to $500 toward tuition at an institution of higher education.


In the United States, au pairs are considered temporary family members and are paid a weekly stipend deducted from federal income tax withholdings. While some host families provide au pairs with separate guest housing on their property, most expect the au pair to live in a family home with full access to meals and activities.

As a result, the line between working and leisure time is sometimes clearly defined. When an au pair works a long day, they may return home to find their refrigerator empty and a note that says “no more food.”


Host families have to provide au pairs with housing that meets specific requirements. The accommodations must be part of the house or apartment in which the family lives. Au pairs can only be placed in homes with infants under three months old if the au pair has documented experience caring for infants; or in homes with children with special needs if the au pair has identified prior experience and skills in working with children with special needs.

Most host families allow au pairs to share their homes with them. This means the au pair will be included in family activities like meals, holiday parties, and vacation travel (hosts must pay for au pairs’ airfare). It is crucial that au pairs feel comfortable as family member and are allowed to enjoy a normal lifestyle.

The recent decision that au pairs are entitled to the same rights as domestic workers has thrown many au pair families into turmoil. Families are rallying at the state level to urge lawmakers to pass legislation to mitigate the ruling.

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