Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is under fire for saving two au pairs from deportation in 2015.
It is understood that both women tried to enter Australia without the correct work visa. Despite this, Mr. Dutton intervened personally and allowed them visitor visas.
Dutton freed French au pair Alexandra Deuwel from immigrant detention after being pressured by AFL chief Gil McLachlan and granted a visa to Italian au pair Michela Marchisio, who reportedly planned to work for a former colleague of the Queensland police.
In a statement to SBS News, Dutton said he made "decisions on the merit of individual cases in accordance with the law."
On Wednesday, a Senate investigation into the matter began, and the final report is scheduled for September 11.
What exactly is an au pair?
An au pair is usually defined as a domestic assistant from another country whose primary function is to help a family with childcare and some domestic chores.
The translation from French means "on par" or "equal to" since the au pair lives with a host family, receiving accommodation and an "allowance" in exchange for her work.
To calculate the subsidy, families are encouraged to use the national minimum wage, which amounts to $ 18.29 per hour of work, minus the average cost of "room and board" (typically $ 350 per week).
According to the industry body material, the Australian Au Pair Cultural Association, au pairs generally care for the child or family of a family for 20 to 40 hours per week.
Laurie Berg, a professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology in Sydney, told Fairfax last week that there were up to 10,000 au pairs in Australia.
What does the work involve?
Australian au pair agencies tend to target young women.
"You will be the envy of all your friends! They will follow you online, they will read about your adventures, the places you go and the people you know! You will live the Australian dream!" an agency website says.
Another question: "Would you like to experience a foreign culture in a personal, protected and pleasant way? Make friends for life while improving your English and enhance your CV all with the help of an amazing host family!"
Some websites have detailed descriptions of the host family's settings and the work they are expected to do.
One says: "We need the au pair to help prepare the children for school, help them prepare breakfast, clean up after breakfast, walk to school, attend games or paint and play or tell stories in the school. library, children, bathing children, reading stories to children. "
Why do people work as au pairs?
The au pair agencies trumpet the benefits of the agreement for both international visitors and the host family.
Nicole Kofkin, executive director of the Australian agency Smart Au Pairs, told SBS News that the program "offers an opportunity for a young person with limited prior work experience to have the security of having a safe and welcoming family where they can live and work. at the same time". .
"Many are willing to improve their English skills during placement and become fluent in a matter of months."
It is a point echoed by the founder of the Australian agency AIFS, Wendi Aylward.
"For many young people, the uncertainty of going abroad for the first time and not knowing if you have a job [can] it's a daunting prospect, "Aylward told SBS News.
"[Also], more and more young people want to immerse themselves in a culture instead of staying in a hostel and having a peripheral experience … They want to live with an Australian family, they want to know what it is like to live the Australian way of life. "
Do you need qualifications or checks?
Au pair placements are organized informally or through an agency. Certain agencies will examine the au pair and the family before offering a placement, but there is no consistent approach.
Some police control the family and request qualifications or experience of potential au pairs, but "the agencies vary a lot in their selection processes and level of support during the placement," says the Association of Authors of Australia.
"With the current model, it is possible for an au pair and a family to be matched without any evaluation."
A study that Ms. Berg conducted in 2017, said that Australia "has one of the least regulated au pair sectors in the world".
What visas do au pairs need?
People who want to work as an au pair must have a valid work visa.
"Au pair work is not strictly permitted on a tourist or visitor visa," Julie Williams, registered migration agent of Migration Downunder, told SBS News.
Australia does not have a dedicated au pair visa. Instead, people must apply for a work holiday visa (Subclass 417) or work and vacation visa (Subclass 462). Both require that the applicant be between 18 and 30 years old.
These types of visas allow an initial placement of six months, with the option that the family and the au pair extend for up to six more months.
But there are only a limited number of countries that have reciprocal agreements for the work holiday visa or the work and vacation visa. As a result, the majority of au pairs in Australia come from Germany, the Netherlands, France and Scandinavia.
"This can be extended with the introduction of a dedicated au pair visa," said Ms. Kofkin.
"We know that there are many young people from other countries who want to participate in the au pair program, for example from Brazil."
"All nationalities should be able to submit an application, provided that the applicant meets all the criteria."
And Ms. Aylward said that the current visa agreement means that "we can not track how many au pairs are in the country, or what kind of arrangements they have."
Is there exploitation in the industry?
In a report from 2017, the Australian Au Pair Cultural Association (CAPAA) said it was "concerned about the lack of regulations governing the recruitment and selection of au pairs and host families."
"CAPAA members often hear horror stories from au pairs and families, most of them from locations found through online search engines, offshore agencies or non-CAPAA agencies," he said.
"Increasingly, stories about au pairs who have to work excessive hours or who do not get paid appear in the media."
SBS INSIGHT: An au pair talks about exploitation in a grim industry
The report quoted Ms. Berg from UTS saying that "au pairs have very few resources if they are seriously injured in the home of the host family or reject the payments promised by the families." Likewise, if an au pair leaves without warning , a family can run out of sufficient care for the children. "
"Clearly we need regulation that better protects the interests of au pairs and families," he said.
As such, the Australian Au Pair Cultural Association recommended mandatory insurance coverage for the au pair, a consistent level of selection and support, and making the sponsoring agency ultimately responsible for ensuring that visa regulations are complied with. during the placement.
How has the Dutton saga affected the industry?
"It's a pity that the last week has focused on au pair visas and very little attention has been given to what can be a generally enriching experience," said Ms. Aylward.
And Ms. Kofkin said that the au pair controversy has shed light on the shortcomings of the current system.
"The au pair saga has underpinned the need for a regulated au pair program with professional support from approved agencies and a dedicated visa."
The immigration agent, Ms. Williams, said that the whole episode was an accusation against Mr. Dutton.
She said that "from the point of view of the immigration profession," Mr. Dutton's decision "has disappointed many when it seems that there has been no humanitarian reason for him to intervene."
"It has left others whose requests are still awaiting disillusionment and dismay when they have a much greater need for ministerial intervention and it is in the direct interest of Australian citizens," he said.