Claudia was certain that the J-1 Au Pair Program would help her fulfill her wish to travel to the United States and learn English. Her terms of employment specified she would work 45 hours per week providing childcare, and that she should keep the house, and her personal space, reasonably organized. Once at work, Claudia felt her employer was taking advantage of her; she was often asked to do housekeeping and management, and her weeks frequently exceeded 45 hours. Rarely could she take weekends off, as initially promised, because living in the same house as her employers meant she was frequently on call. Claudia was never paid for extra hours she worked.
Four months into the program, Claudia’s employers began to withhold her paycheck. When Claudia asked for her salary, her boss refused, saying he had lost his income. He became upset, even hostile, and he made threatening calls. When her employer restricted Claudia’s access to the internet, she felt isolated and scared. Claudia reported the incident to her local childcare consultant (LCC), who reminded the family to pay. In response, the family put Claudia’s clothes in a trash bag and kicked her out of the house. She had to stay at the LCC’s home for two weeks and an ultimatum: either find another host family, or risk being sent back to Colombia.
Claudia recommends that the U.S. government closely monitor the J-1 Au Pair Program, and that lack of oversight means “au pairs are being exposed to families who are abusing other au pairs.” During her employment, Claudia felt she had “absolutely zero” protection, and she urges the program to report rampant abuses to authorities. She also wants both families and au pairs to understand au pairs’ rights under the law, especially in regard to overtime hours and pay.
“The program needs to educate the families with how to treat au pairs and what the laws are with regards to au pairs [and] make sure they understand the law and what abuse means. We never never knew who would protect us.”