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Immigration Rules: Au Pairs

Volume 815: debated on Monday 8 November 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to address the impact on the (1) recruitment, and (2) employment, of au pairs from European Union member states of changes to immigration rules following the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU.

My Lords, as has been the case since 2008, the UK’s points-based immigration system will not offer a dedicated route for au pairs. Other immigration routes exist for people who may wish to take up these roles, such as the youth mobility scheme, or YMS. We remain open to negotiating bilateral YMS arrangements with other countries and territories, including the EU or, indeed, nations within it.

My Lords, the au pair scheme was formalised by the Council of Europe in 1969. It is an excellent scheme: it gives hard-working families the benefit of flexible childcare, and au pairs leave the UK with improved English and are great ambassadors, as well as giving business to our English language schools. Brexit has meant that there is no available visa route to bring au pairs to the UK. According to the British Au Pair Agencies Association, Caroline Nokes, the Immigration Minister in 2019, gave assurances that there would be a temporary visa work route for au pairs, but this has not happened. Can my noble friend the Minister inform the House of when we can expect this to occur and will she undertake to expedite this issue?

My Lords, successive Governments since 2008 have decided that the UK’s immigration system will not offer a dedicated visa route for au pairs, and I do not see that situation changing. I described in my initial Answer the YMS route, on which there are around 20,000 people from participating countries or territories coming to experience life in the UK.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that we are moving away from the deplorable British habit of paying British workers too little and not training them enough, and instead relying on cheap labour from abroad. I understand the reasons my noble friend gives for wanting an exception in the case of au pairs, but I counsel the House that it will open us to ridicule if the only exception we are prepared to make is to help us deal with the servant problem.

I agree with my noble friend. Debates have been had over the last few months and years, but the whole point is to offer competitive wages here for workers from either here or abroad. Au pairs certainly are labour on the cheap.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although we have had critical shortages of HGV drivers, fruit-pickers, nurses, doctors and care workers, it takes a shortage of au pairs for some people to realise that Brexit is an unmitigated, self-inflicted disaster? When will the Government acknowledge this and try to find a new, positive relationship with the European Union?

The noble Lord knows very well that the problems with HGV drivers and poultry workers are to do with easing supply chain pressures and are nothing to do with Brexit.

My Lords, for decades after the Second World War, it was Conservatives who, following Churchill, formed the backbone of the European movement. One of the motivating causes was that of cultural and educational exchange, whether through the Council of Europe or later the EU. Why on earth can a Conservative Government not now unilaterally extend the youth mobility scheme to EU and EEA countries to include, among others, au pairs?

My Lords, I have just explained this. The youth mobility scheme is open to the whole world and we are open to having arrangements with any country in the world. We already have arrangements with nine countries, with two more to be added next year.

My Lords, I have no view as to whether the Government should take action to address the shortage of au pairs. However, I ask my noble friend to agree that, if any action is taken by the Government as a result of this shortage, there will be no undue discrimination in favour of EU countries as opposed to those in the rest of the world. We have left the European Union, and that means that we stand on an equal relationship and footing with every country in the world. Any scheme that is introduced should not contain the discriminatory element implicit in this Question.

This is not really about au pairs, is it? This is about opportunities for young people. Is it not correct that the Government did not think about opportunities for young people when they did their Brexit deal, just like they did not think about food producers, the cultural industries or even the people of Northern Ireland? Will the Minister commit to speak to her colleague the noble Lord, Lord Frost, to make sure that appropriate changes are made to the Brexit deal which deal with this, alongside the other problems the Government have created by omitting arrangements for young people?

As I said in answer to a previous question, there are 20,000 young people from participating countries or territories coming here to experience life in the UK. I would not say that that is a scheme that is closing down opportunities for young people.

My Lords, when my twin daughters were very small, we engaged an au pair from Sweden who was very helpful and became a lifelong friend. During her time with us, she developed her English language skills and gave us an insight into life in Scandinavia. Do the Government really value this kind of international interaction, particularly with our friends in Europe? If they do, will they just scrap all restrictions on the employment of au pairs?

Why does the noble Lord restrict this opportunity to Europe? We are opening up opportunity to the whole of the world.