An au pair is young person who comes from another country to live with a family to help care for their children. For those who are unfamiliar with the au pair program, read my other blog post, What is an Au Pair.
I am currently hosting my 4th au pair from China. Since my boys were babies, our family has relied on the au pair program to provide affordable Mandarin Chinese language immersion for our kids. Based on my research and personal experience, here are the 4 reasons someone might be struggling to find an Au Pair from China.
1. The Au Pair Program Is Still Relatively New To The Country
One reason why there are so few Chinese au pairs is that, compared to other countries, the au pair program is relatively new to China. Even though the U.S. State Department's official Au Pair Program started in 1987, the first Chinese au pair did not come to the U.S. until 2007. So, it's not surprising that there are much more established avenues for au pairs coming from countries in Europe and Latin America where the recruiting agencies have a 20-year head-start (or more if you consider that some countries sent au pairs to the U.S. before the official program was established).
2. Higher Education Requirements Mean Fewer Eligible Candidates
Another reason why the pool of Chinese au pairs is much smaller than you would expect is that the education requirements for a young Chinese person to become an au pair are higher than they are for young people in most other countries. For example, whereas, an 18 year old high school graduate from Mexico can apply to be an au pair in the U.S. In China, in order to apply to be an au pair in the U.S., you have to at least be a college student. This limits the pool of otherwise eligible applicants by about 25%.
Additionally, since education is so valued in China, most college students want to graduate before they leave the country (rather than taking a gap year in the middle of their studies), so, most applicants already have degrees. Case in point, of our four Chinese au pairs, one had the equivalent of an Associate's Degree, and the other three had already obtained their Bachelor's degree.
3. Higher Agency Fees (for the Au Pair Applicants) Restrict the Applicant Pool Even Further
Most host families don't realize that their au pair most likely also paid to participate in the au pair program. The cost to the au pair varies dramatically depending on their nationality, their host country, and whether or not they used a placement agency. All au pairs coming to the U.S. have to pay $200 for a U.S. visa. In some countries, that is the only out of pocket expense to participate in the program. However, every au pair from China that I have spoken with (~20 total) has used a Chinese placement agency in order to participate in the program. So, in addition to the $200 visa application fee, my Chinese au pairs paid between $2,000-$5,000 each! For reference about how much money this is in China, the average annual salary of a Chinese college graduate in 2018 was $9, 945). Granted, since the annual stipend for an au pair is $10, 179 (~$9,500 after taxes), it is possible that some of them borrowed this money from friends or family members, then repaid it, but, they would still have needed to know friends and family members who had a substantial amount of money that they were willing to loan. I think that this is probably the biggest contributing factor that explains why there are so few Chinese au pairs right now.
4. U.S. Families are Less Likely To Request Au Pairs From Certain Countries
The final reason why there are probably fewer au pairs from China in the U.S. is that there are still a relatively low proportion of American host families actively seeking Chinese au pairs. Although more and more Americans are coming to realize the value of raising kids who can speak Mandarin, the number of parents in the U.S. with any familiarity with Chinese language and culture is still much lower than the number familiar with romance languages, Latin American, and European culture. So, until host family demand for Chinese au pairs grows substantially, it makes sense for the U.S. agencies to continue to focus their overseas recruiting efforts in the countries where the greatest proportion of their host families have some connection, familiarity, or interest.
I compiled the above list via my daily interaction with my Chinese au pairs and their friends. I'm sure that there are other factors that contribute to why there are fewer au pairs from some countries than others. If you know of any, please comment below and tell us about your experience. (Your email address will not be posted.)
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