As was mentioned in my previous blog, majority of the Slovak interviewees first came to Britain as au pairs. Until recently, it was the easiest and most affordable way for a young foreigner with a lack of qualifications or skills to find a job and explore the UK by living with the host family and taking care of their children. Unfortunately, the new visa rules do not take the European au pair system into account so many British parents have started considering which of them gives up work. “Brexit killed our business,” Cynthia Cary of the Rainbow Au Pairs agency said.
Migration was one of the key topics of brexit campaign. Au pairs are one of its victims. Since Britain´s definitive break with the EU, young Europeans wishing to get to know the country´s culture and improve their English need a work visa. To obtain it, au pairs must now earn a minimum of £20,000 (€23,341), which is significantly higher than the £5,000 per year typically given in the past. This low pay was acceptable with regard to free accommodation and meals provided by the host family in addition to salary. For the comparison, the cost of a British nanny is at around £2,000 per month, which is prohibitively expensive for most British families.
Cary explained since January her agency had seen applications fall by 90% – the same proportion of au pairs that would normally apply from the EU. Under the current regulations, the only foreign nationals who can work as au pairs are either Europeans who arrived in the UK before Brexit or nationals from nine countries including Canada, Australia and Japan under a youth mobility scheme. The pool of candidates from these remaining countries does not come close to filling the usual demand for 45,000 au pairs in the UK every year, the British Au Pair Agencies Association has said.
According to Zuzana Sekeráková Búriková of the Sociological Institute, Slovak Academy of Science, the author of the well-known book Au Pair, it is very hard to tell what happens next. “The UK migration officials do not reckon the country depends on foreign caregivers,“ says Sekeráková Búriková. “There will certainly be a crisis in this area. The point system applied in visa issuing process after brexit prefers workers with higher qualifications. Britain will certainly need to find ways of opening itself to the child or senior caregivers. “
However, Sekeráková Búriková reminds there is no guarantee the UK will open up to the Europeans, including Slovaks. It is even less likely the au pairs´ income would grow enough to meet the minimum level for a work visa. The UK agencies have even asked their government to extend the mobility scheme so the EU countries are included – with no response yet.