Ethan Blasco just turned 22 and has nothing but good words about the town where he lives, Weybridge, a town of about 30,000 inhabitants in West London. He describes the couple who have been welcoming him since September in also affectionate terms. They have facilitated integration into the family and the country, they treat him with confidence. He is, after all, like an older brother to his 7-year-old son.
The young Valencian belongs to the last group of Europeans who will be able to enjoy this experience. Because the ‘Brexit’ has brought the surprise that a month later more shares are traded on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange than on the London Stock Exchange, or that some Scottish shellfishmen cannot export; and the discovery that au pairs are no longer allowed in the UK.
British governments have given priority over the past five years to ending the free movement of people in the EU, and a new immigration law came into force on 1 January. It requires visas for foreigners looking for paid work. The requirements include that those who have an offer to babysit must receive a minimum annual salary of about 23,000 euros.
British families are estimated to currently benefit from the presence of au pairs.
- New requirements.
Those who have an offer to babysit must receive a minimum annual salary of 23,000 euros
Blasco can remain in the United Kingdom because he arrived before the end of 2020 and has requested, like 250,000 other Spaniards, the status of settled. His is provisional, because he must spend five years of residence for all the rights of community citizens settled in the country to be recognized. You can and want to continue your current job.
The pay is 114 euros for about 25 hours a week. But he has his own room, eats and dines with the family, has time to study English and thus complement his higher level of animation and physical sports activities (Tafad). He wants to know more places and facets of “one of the best countries in the world”, when the restrictions due to the pandemic end.
Both he and Laura Martín, founder of the Servihogar agency, who also organized his first experience as an ‘au pair’, four years ago in Scotland, mention in the conversation a common argument among those affected by this ‘Brexit’ surprise. “The ‘au pair’ program should be treated as a cultural exchange and not as a job,” they say.
What motivates the German, Swedish or Dutch girls who ask Martín for a Spanish family to spend a course with them? The promise of seventy euros a week in exchange for looking after the children and doing some housework? No. They want to improve their knowledge of Spanish, just like Ethan Blasco with English. You are already preparing the exam for intermediate level B1.
Not everything is congratulations on the status of ‘au pair’. When Peter Foster published on the social network Twitter his article in the ‘Financial Times’ about the end of an exchange from which at least 45,000 British families would benefit, a cascade of reproaches fell on the author, for worrying about those who “exploit in a stark way young foreigners as modern slaves’, according to a reply.
The British Home Office’s response to Jamie Shackell, president of BAPAA, an association of au pair agencies, suggests that the end is welcome. “Immigration is to be seen alongside the development of the UK workforce, rather than as an alternative,” the letter said. And it recommended that families offer better conditions to attract visa immigrants.
Cynthia Cary, who created the Rainbow agency in England twelve years ago and has had a reference in Servihogar to recruit her ‘au pairs’, has lost more than 90% of her business, which was supplied by community youth. He sees “a bleak future” for his company. It will now try to directly recruit students who have postponed their march to the University due to the pandemic or new immigrants.
The will of young British people, or Australians and New Zealanders who benefit from temporary visas for young foreigners, to live with a family and work for the minimum wage for the hours contracted, when they already know the language and the culture, will be tested. The loss of ‘au pairs’ will especially harm single-parent families or in which both spouses work.
Indifference of governments
The Spanish agencies associated in AEPA would like to see the creation of a special visa for ‘au pairs’, as they exist in Germany, the Netherlands and other EU countries. It would perhaps facilitate the opening of a channel of reciprocity with the United Kingdom, but governments seem indifferent for the moment.
Laura Martin lived in Newcastle for four memorable months thirty years ago with the family of a deputy and Ethan Blasco is exultant despite the limitations of the pandemic. But the preferred destination for young Spaniards, without resources to pay for English courses and a prolonged stay in the United Kingdom, has closed its door to the extraordinary youth experience of integrating for a time into a family whose language and customs are unknown. .
An international exchange for seven decades
Encyclopedias locate the origin of the term ‘au pair’, a French expression that can be translated as ‘on par’, in a quote from the novelist Honoré de Balzac, who described in this way an employee who seemed to enjoy equality with her employer . Popularity as an occupation would have grown after World War II.
Lucy Lethbridge tells in ‘Servants’, servants, that in 1964, agencies had brought 20,000 girls to the UK to work as ‘au pairs’. The task was then restricted to women and the fantasies produced literature about “harsh and mercenary” French girls who conquered the husband of the neighboring house or young Nordic women with a sexual freedom that consumed local adolescents.
In 1969, the Council of Europe promoted an international agreement for common regulation, recommending standards and contracts. Spain ratified it in 1988, but, a decade earlier, a Swiss woman had already created the first agency in Spain in Barcelona. He belonged to a family that spread the activity throughout several European countries.
Victoria Vicente learned the trade at the agency, ‘International Au Pair’ and bought it from its founder. Its activity spread in Spain and in different countries in Europe, America and Asia. It also recruited young people eager to learn English as employees for the British hospitality, always in need of foreign labor.
She remembers the time when the aspiring au pair needed a letter from her family to enter the UK and Sara Montiel had foreign girls in her house. He does not see an immediate solution to the problem created by ‘Brexit’. It works with agencies in Ireland, but that market cannot satisfy all the demand. Following the slump in activity in the pandemic and the UK shutdown, he will disband the agency this fall and retire.
Like other managers in the sector, Vicente recognizes that there are families who abuse the ‘au pair’, but that the bad news is highlighted when the general experience is positive. Ethan Blasco says that, of the group of fifty that au pairs in his area have on WhatsApp, only two have had problems, one of them because of him and another girl with a Muslim family that required him to follow the rules of their faith .