Proposal would allow au pairs to care for elderly

Rule change gives retired couples right to have an au pair to help out around the house The immigration minister, Søren Pind, has proposed changing the rules regarding au pairs to give retired couples the same right that families already...

The immigration minister, Søren Pind, has proposed changing the rules regarding au pairs to give retired couples the same right that families already have to invite a young man or woman to live with them and do their cleaning and shopping for up to 30 hours a week, in exchange for room and board, plus 3,050 kroner per month in ‘pocket money’.

In addition to allowing retired couples without disabilities to take on an au pair, the new rule change would extend the length an au pair may stay in the country from 18 to 24 months.

Under current rules, single parents can also have au pairs – as long as the au pair lives at the same address as the child. That is one rule Pind himself was breaking last year, when it was discovered that he was living alone with the au pair, even though his children were living with his ex-wife.

Pind, who was not immigration minister at the time, asked the Immigration Ministry for a dispensation to allow him to keep the au pair at his house. His request was denied.

Pind said the rule he broke was not one he was proposing to change. “It's not about me. But divorced people maybe have even more need for help than many others,” he told Berlingske newspaper.

“I can't see any logical argument for why families with young children are the only ones with a need for cultural exchange,” he added. “Why shouldn't the elderly also have that opportunity?”

The term ‘au pair’ means ‘equal to’ or ‘on par’ in French – and points to the intention that the arrangement should be a cultural exchange between equals – not a means to an extremely low-paid domestic servant.

But critics say the proposal would created an underclass of underpaid domestic workers.

The rule changes are “problematic and worrying”, according to Helle Stenum, an expert on au pairs and migration from Roskilde University.

“It waters down the original intention for au pairs and cements that, in Denmark, au pair rules allow for the import of cheap, third-world labour,” Stenum said.

Jakob Bang, the union secretary for FOA, a labour union representing many publicly employed caregivers, was also sceptical about Pind’s proposal to allow elder care au pairs.

“What's problematic is that under the mantle of ‘cultural exchange’ you are fixing the salary for household help at a quarter of the normal cost,” Bang said. “Today we are clearly importing a workforce, primarily from the Philippines.”

Paradoxically, the Philippines made it illegal for its own citizens to travel abroad as au pairs – ostensibly to protect them from exploitation. But up until November 2010, Denmark ignored that fact by issuing an overwhelming number of au pair visas to Filipinos, reports Information newspaper.

Out of 2,649 au pair visas issued to non-EU nationals last year in Denmark, 2,140 went to Filipinos. Denmark is currently near the top of the list of EU countries with the most third-world ‘au pairs’ per capita and Stenum estimated that the number would as much as double as a result of the immigration minister's rule change.


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The Copenhagen Post

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