Nanny or Au Pair in America Legally

It’s not worth the risk doing it any other way

Things you should know about trying to work as a nanny or au pair in USA

Can I work in USA without a J-1 Cultural Exchange Visa?

Not legally – some people in the past have entered and worked on a tourist visa (visa waiver), but you should think twice (5 times actually) before you do so. Maybe friends of someone you know have done it without any problems – but please read on.

The US government have clear rules to protect childcarers coming to America and to reassure American families that the nanny they engage has been carefully selected and prepared for this demanding job. Only a few US appointed and approved agencies – such as Au Pair in America – are authorised by the government to arrange legal cultural exchange visas.

There is no general working holiday visas for USA for childcare jobs. Today, with the internet and newspaper ads, many nannies are tempted to find families themselves. Sometimes, of course, they end up in nice families, but very often – as we know from our experience – the illegal nanny job can turn into the job from hell. The family will reassure you that it is ok and perfectly legal but unless you have the right working visa in your passport BEFORE you leave New Zealand – you’re not legal!

You have to ask yourself why these families don’t want to be screened by a large agency? It it because they don’t think their nanny is worth the fee? Will your pay cheques bounce? Are they hiding something?At Nannies Abroad we continually receive phone calls from desperate mothers and fathers whose daughters left for America with no visa or with a tourist visa, to work in a family they found themselves on the internet. The situations these girls are in are often frightening and unbelievable (just like you see on TV).

They plead with us to help their daughter by taking her into our legal program so they can be protected, but this is not an option by then because a legal “J-1” visa can only be issued to applicants before they leave NZ. Under no circumstances will US Immigration issue one from within USA. All we can do is advise the nanny to return home as soon as possible and perhaps go through the channels correctly this time.

There are in fact serious risks involved in going to the US as a nanny without the help of a government-authorised program. For example…Its illegal.The US government strictly warns that you may not work in America if you have a tourist visa, even if you only receive your room and board and no salary. Many people are discovered at LA airport and turned back. Others are arrested later (once in the family) and deported. Their names are put on a computerised “black list” and they are not allowed to return to the United States for many years.

All ‘illegal aliens’ are arrested. The warning of the American Embassy: “It is strictly forbidden to work or study in the United States with a tourist visa! This applies even if you do not earn a wage and receive compensation in the form of meals and lodging. Visitors who are found to have take up work, in spite of this warning, run the risk of being arrested and expelled from the country.

“The family from HELL”

You may receive a very tempting offer from an American family – your own car to use, a great salary, great working week – no weekends, a huge house, your own flat, “wonderful children who love their nannies”, and even a “contract” – when you arrive. But the conditions of the contract will be dictated by the family, not you, and if they don’t respect the contract – which is of no value because you are there illegally, who will help protect you against being taken advantage of? Nobody. You may find that your “dream job” lasts only two weeks. If you don’t get on with the Mom or if you can’t manage their “wonderful children” they can sack you, and they won’t think twice about doing that, because you have taken ALL the risks.

The family can treat you the way they want, change your job description or working conditions – just because they can!. You will have to accept this or leave, in the hope of finding another family on your own. You may find yourself in the street with no place to go and nobody to turn to. The police? They will arrest you and ask to see your ‘papers’ and you will be detained as an ‘illegal alien’. See news article.Unexpected changes.Even if your host family treats you fairly, the conditions in the family can suddenly change and result in your having to leave: death, divorce, separation, illness, financial problems, moving away, or the mother, for example, could decide to stop working and stay at home and wouldn’t need you anymore. There would be no organisation ready to help you find a new family. 

With businesses going into bankruptcy in USA it is a normal thing for people to lose their jobs – which just didn’t happen in the 90’s.


In 1996, the American Congress passed new legislation giving the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) a budget of 748 million dollars and new draconian powers to eliminate all persons living or working illegally in the USA. The INS now has over 15,000 agents out looking for them, and in the first two years (1996/1997) – about 285,000 people were arrested and deported. While waiting for their deportation these people are usually sent to one of the many overcrowded internment centers around the country, where you can find anything but five-star comfort. (In November 1998, the prisoners staged a protest in a New York detention center: 80 people were sleeping on mattresses in a dormitory built to hold 42. You will agree that this is not exactly the kind of “cultural exchange” that the US government wants visiting Kiwis to experience).

As an illegal nanny, you will have to constantly live with the possibility of being discovered , or arrested by the police and sent home at your expense. Nannies with a legal “J-1” Cultural Exchange visa in their passport don’t have to worry about this.

Health and accident insurance.As an illegal worker, you will have to organise your own Medical Insurance for the whole time you are in USA. A trip to the doctor can cost $50+US (NZ$120+). If you crash the parents car – or ‘your car’, the police will automatically ask for your papers, – you will not have car insurance so will have to pay for it yourself. Travel Insurance for 12 months through a travel agency can be $1600NZD.