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Stricter regulation for au pairs in the Netherlands29 October 2013, by Alexandra Gowling
Nearly one third of the au pair agencies in the Netherlands who were screened by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) as part of the new Modern Migration Policy Act (MoMi) have failed the procedure.
The Act is designed, among other things, to counteract the exploitation of au pairs. Under current regulations, au pairs may stay and work in the Netherlands for one year only.
The typical arrangement is that in exchange for room, board and a disposable income of 300 to 350 euros a month, au pairs mind the children of the host family and do some light housework, for no more than 30 hours per week.
Having an au pair is an attractive alternative to regular child care, which has become increasingly expensive in the Netherlands in recent years. Every year around 2.000 au pairs come to the Netherlands, 1.300 of whom come from outside the EU.
Exploitation of au pairs, however, is not unknown. Some outstay their visa, while host families have also been known to demand more than 30 hours a week in work.
Last September, Bulgarian au pair Taybe Mehmed won her court case that she had instigated against her host family to claim four years of overdue wages.
Au pair agency responsibilities
The law makes agencies responsible for an au pair's stay and return to his or her own land, under penalty of fines. The agencies must notify the IND if the au pair leaves the host family and keep all data for up to five years after the au pair has departed.
Over 30 agencies were screened by the IND, but only 23 agencies were approved. Of that number, many still need to make adjustments, and any new au pair agency cannot simply register and start operating.
Photo by Flickr user dietmut
"The rules have not been prepared for no reason," said a spokesman from the IND. "We want to cooperate with reliable companies to ensure that cultural exchange is the main component [of their stay] and au pairs are not exploited."
Au pair agency responses
The IND will be talking with au pair agencies soon regarding the new legislation. Ellen Heesen-Hiemstra, president of the Dutch au pair association Bonapa, said that the agencies have been given a great deal of responsibility, but the law makers didn’t really listen to the agencies.
"It's often not the agencies, but the families who flout the law," she said.
This autumn, Heesen-Hiemstra has received five complaints from au pairs who worked for much longer than the standard 30 hours per week. She sent an urgent letter to all families with an au pair.
"And I've been very strict with them. I've highlighted the [Bulgarian au pair] Mehmed case and the risk of fines."