Having been a mainstay of childcare for many working parents, Britain’s au pair system is under threat after Brexit – putting pressure on families and forcing some mothers to consider quitting their jobs.
The system, which typically allows younger foreigners to stay with a family in a host country while they care for their children, had continued in Britain unhindered until the end of its transition from the EU to the end of 2020.
However, since the UK’s final break with the bloc, young people wanting to come from the EU to immerse themselves in British culture and learn English must now obtain a work visa.
“Brexit has killed our business, it’s a very sad state of affairs,” Cynthia Cary, of the Rainbow Au Pairs Ltd agency based near East Grinstead, south London, told AFP.
Under post-Brexit working conditions, au couples must now earn a minimum of $ 20,000 ($ 28,000) per year to obtain a work visa.
This is significantly higher than the 5,000 a year typically given in the past.
Cary explained that since January her agency had seen applications fall by 90 per cent – the same percentage of au couples that would normally apply from the EU.
– ‘Frustration’ –
“We have said we can not match any EU citizens at all because we have no way of allowing them to come to the UK legitimately,” she added.
Clare James, who has been using the system to care for her two sons for the past 10 years, said for the next school year in September she had received only one application, far less than 15 in previous years.
“It will stop people from coming because it is too expensive,” James said. “Shamesh is a real shame for young people and diligent families.”
Under current regulations, the only foreign nationals who can work as an au pair are either Europeans who arrived in the UK before Brexit or nationals from nine counties including Canada, Australia and Japan under a youth movement scheme.
The group of candidates from these remaining countries is not close to meeting the usual demand for 45,000 au pairs in the UK each year, said the British Association of Au Pair Agencies.
James said the cost of a British nanny at around 2,000 a month was too expensive for most British families.
“If we can’t find someone in September, either I or my husband will have to quit,” she added, calling the situation a “disappointment.”
Aurelie Nuret, who lives in the new Fulham market, west London, said she had no “idea how we would get there” during the summer months.
“This neighborhood relies on au pair. This will again affect working mothers,” Nuret said, adding: “I’m very annoyed.”
– ‘Deaf ears’ –
Jessie Clapp said she will likely have to stop working “when our beautiful au French couple leaves in July”.
“My children will not meet and welcome a new ‘big sister’ because our government has not decided on any alternatives for au couples,” she added.
Clapp said she had signed petitions and contacted “all MPs who could make a difference”, but ultimately those efforts “sit on deaf ears”.
Agencies like Rainbow Au Pairs said they had warned the government before Brexit unsuccessfully.
They are now demanding that Europeans be able to take advantage of the same youth movement scheme as the Australian and Canadian couples.
“But until that happens, we can do nothing. We are powerless,” Cary explained. “The government is really not listening to us.
“An 18-year-old from France is not coming to make money. They will come because they need to improve their language skills. It is a cultural exchange, it should not be seen as work.”
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