Norway has more long-term visitors on au pair contracts than ever before, and now the government is cracking down on abuse of the program, in an effort to prevent it from simply providing inexpensive domestic help to local households.
The crackdown has been expected for the past two years, after concerns rose that young persons coming to Norway as au pairs ended up being exploited and used primarily as underpaid nannies, maids or other forms of household servants. Former state secretary in the Ministry of Labour, Libe Rieber-Mohn, admitted to newspaper Dagsavisen in 2009 that the au pair system in Norway wasn’t meeting its goal of being a vehicle of cultural exchange.
The admission came after research organization Fafo had conducted a study that showed how Norwegian host families took in au pairs, many of whom come to Norway from the Philippines, not with the aim of introducing them to Norwegian culture but rather to obtain low-cost child care, house cleaning and food preparation.
“The host families’ main reason for housing an au pair was that they needed help in the house,” Fafo researcher Cecilie Øien told Dagsavisen. “The focus has shifted from cultural exchange to work.” An official at trade union federation LO, Trine Lise Sundnes, went so far as to say that the au pair system in Norway had developed into a form of social dumping parading as cultural exchange.
The sheer numbers of au pairs in Norway also caused concern, after tripling in the space of 10 years. State statistics showed there were 1,509 au pairs in Norway in 2010, up from just 561 in 2000. More than 1,200 persons came to Norway as au pairs between January and August last year.
Far from all au pairs are exploited, with Noel Baylosis Alarcon from the Philippines telling newspaper Aftenposten last autum that he felt like a member of his host family in Bergen. He said he works no more than 30 hours a week, washing clothes, playing with the family’s children and making dinner, and has weekends free. He took over the au pair position his older sister had held, and plans call for his cousin to take over his spot next fall.
Enforcing original intention
Others have been much worse off and concerns for au pairs peaked late last fall, when two female au pairs from the Philippines ran away from their host couple in Oslo and went to the police, claiming they’d been expected to not only work from early morning until late at night in the couple’s home and business but also to have sex with them.
Fafo’s study was conducted on assignment from state immigration UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet), to reveal whether the au pair system in Norway was being used in accordance with its intention. It’s taken two years for the Justice Ministry to react, but now it’s instructed UDI to impose much stricter rules aimed at enforcing the original intention of the au pair system.
No longer will foreigners be allowed to come to Norway as au pairs if they have children of their own in their home country. Host families will also be obliged to increase the minimum level of their economic support of au pairs, from NOK 4,000 to NOK 5,000 per month.
Au pairs will also be able to demand receipt of NOK 7,500 per year (up from NOK 6,000) for Norwegian language courses. Host families will also be obliged to cover the costs of the au pairs’ travel to and from language courses as well as their trip home.
Rights and duties
The new rules will take effect this year, probably during this winter, according to UDI, which will issue new information on its website (external link) when a date is set.
The Justice Ministry has also asked UDI to better inform au pairs and their host families of their rights and duties. This is expected to occur either through information meetings or in writing. UDI also plans to set up an informational telephone service staffed by people who can answer questions from au pairs and host families. Tax authorities (Skatteetaten) will also provide written material to explain au pair’s tax obligations in Norway.
Ministry officials stressed that au pairs are meant to be young adults from other countries who will take part in Norwegian life and society, learn the language and learn about local culture. In return, au pairs can provide household help and child care, but not more than 30 hours per week.
Host families found to abuse the au pair system can be prevented from hosting au pairs for a certain period. Au pairs will also be more easily able to move to a new host family, without having to apply for new residence permission, according to new proposed laws soon to go out to hearing.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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