Save Au Pairs: UK visa rules
put childcare scheme
23 March 2021
The British Au Pair Agencies Association (BAPAA) has launched a campaign to save au pairing in the UK, amid warnings that post-Brexit immigration rules could spell an end to the popular childcare system.
As the only recognised Trade Association for the British Au Pair Industry, BAPAA is calling on the Home Office to make adjustments to the immigration rules to ensure au pairs from the EU can continue to join families in the UK, and British au pairs can join families in Europe post-Brexit.
What is an au pair?
Au pairing is a traditional cultural exchange arrangement which allows young people to experience life in a foreign country by living with a host family and providing services such as childcare and housework in return. It is estimated that around 45,000 families in the UK rely on this well-trodden route as an affordable childcare solution, including many key workers and single parents who cannot easily rely on other forms of childcare.
Typically, au pairs are young people aged 18 to 30 who are taking a 6 to 12 month break from their studies to improve their knowledge of language and culture. Before Brexit, more than 90% of au pairs in the UK came from European countries and contributed around 25 hours of childcare per week in exchange for accommodation, £100 a week “pocket money” and a contribution from their host family towards their English language studies.
The Save Au Pairs campaign states that, as au pairing is neither work nor a holiday, and visits typically last six months or more, clear provisions in immigration law are required to ensure suitable rights that are different to work or visit visas.
The impact of Brexit on au pairs
Now that Freedom of Movement from the EU has come to an end, EU and non-EU nationals are subject to the same set of immigration rules under the points-based system.
EU, EEA or Swiss au pairs who were already living in the UK before the Brexit transition period ended at 11pm on 31 December 2020 can apply for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, and have until 30 June 2021 to submit an application. This will allow them to continue working in the UK without the need for a visa. However, EU nationals arriving in the UK after this time must apply for a visa.
The UK’s points-based immigration system does not offer a dedicated visa route for au pairs and nor do they sit comfortably under the new “skilled worker” category, alongside nannies and other childcare workers. Under the Skilled Worker route, applicants must hold a job offer from an approved sponsor with a minimum salary of £20,480 a year.
BAPAA argues that the Skilled Worker route is not viable in the context of au pairs, as they have no formal childcare qualifications and would not meet the salary requirements. An added complication would be the need for families to apply for a sponsor licence in order to hire workers under this route.
Expanding the Youth Mobility Scheme
In response to lobbying from organisations such as BAPAA, the Home Office has stated that although there will be no dedicated route for au pairs under the points-based system, au pairs can use other routes into the UK, such as the Youth Mobility Scheme.
The Youth Mobility Scheme is a temporary immigration route and reciprocal cultural exchange programme which provides young people aged 18 to 30 from participating countries the opportunity to live and work the UK for up to two years.
However, the scheme is currently only open to young people from the following eight participating countries:
- New Zealand
- Hong Kong
- Republic of Korea
This means that the Home Office’s suggestion for au pairs to use this route would only apply to eligible individuals from the above countries, and does not provide a viable solution for European nationals, who account for the majority of au pairs in the UK.
The Save Au Pairs campaign has urged the Home Office to recognise the immense value of au pairs and cultural exchange programmes and make EU nationals eligible to apply under the Youth Mobility Scheme.
Support the Save Au Pairs campaign
Despite repeated calls for the Youth Mobility Scheme to be extended to EU nationals, there are currently no plans to introduce a viable route for EU nationals to enter the UK as au pairs.
Furthermore, the Home Office has warned au pairs and their employers not to abuse the visitor visa route for this purpose, as receiving renumeration in exchange for childcare services is against the rules of short-term visit visas.
Campaigners claim that by closing the doors to young people in UK-EU cultural exchange programmes, thousands of young people will miss out on affordable overseas study programmes and families in the UK will be left with fewer options for childcare that fits around their work commitments.
For more information on BAPAA’s Save Au Pairs campaign and how you can support the initiative, please visit the website here. International supporters are also encouraged to contact their local government to highlight the issue.
Understanding the UK’s new immigration rules
If you have questions on the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system, or if you require any support with filing an application for a UK visa, Smith Stone Walters is here to help.
Our team of immigration experts will guide you through the entire process step-by-step, to ensure your visa application is as stress-free as possible. To discuss your requirements with a member of the team, please contact us today.