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Coming to the UK as an Au Pair

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 27 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Au Pair Uk Immigration Points-based Visa

Coming to the UK to work as an au pair has always been a popular choice for young people from overseas who wish to experience life in the UK. It can be an excellent way to improve English language skills and learn about British culture whilst earning a little money.

Citizens of most countries within the European Economic Area and Switzerland do not need permission to come to the UK to live or work and therefore are free to come to the UK as au pairs. However, different rules apply to citizens of Bulgaria and Romania who generally require a work permit before they can work in the UK. Citizens of those two countries will have to obtain an accession worker card if they wish to come to the UK as an au pair.

Citizens of countries outside Europe will require a visa or entry clearance before coming to the UK to work as an au pair.

What is an Au Pair?

Under the old immigration rules an au pair was defined as a young foreign national who came to the UK to learn English, lived with an English family and provided that family with help in the home for a maximum of five hours a day. In return the au pair received an allowance and had the opportunity to study English. Au pairs were also entitled to two free days a week and would be allowed to stay in the UK for a maximum of two years.

Introduction of the New Points-Based System

Until last year an application to come to the UK as an au pair was made under a specific au pair immigration category which applied only to nationals of certain countries. Depending on the country of origin, applicants may have required a visa in addition to entry clearance before coming to the UK. However, on 26 November 2008 the old au pair scheme came to an end to be replaced by the new Youth Mobility Scheme, which applies to applicants aged between 18 and 30.

Foreign nationals who are already in the UK under the previous au pair system will be entitled to continue their placement under transitional arrangements which are in force.

Applying under the Youth Mobility Scheme

Foreign nationals, other than those from the European Economic Area and Switzerland, who wish to come to the UK as an au pair must now apply under the Youth Mobility Scheme category of Tier 5 of the new points-based immigration system. Currently this scheme only applies to applicants from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. More countries may join the scheme in due course.

Under the Youth Mobility Scheme, the applicant’s own government acts as their sponsor for UK immigration purposes. Every year each government will be able to sponsor a limited number of people to come to the UK. Once the yearly quota has been reached no further applicants will be considered from that country. Applicants must be outside the UK when they apply. Under the new scheme applicants need not actually take up an au pair placement once they come to the UK.

Calculating the Points Needed

As with other the other tiers of the new immigration system, foreign nationals who wish to come to the UK as au pairs will have to satisfy the immigration authorities that they have enough points. To be successful under the Youth Mobility Scheme applicants will have to score a total of 50 points. Points are earned in three different categories as follows:
  • Nationality – applicants from one of the four countries currently participating in the Youth Mobility Scheme will earn 30 points based on their nationality.
  • Age – applicants who are aged between 18 and 30 will earn 10 points in this category.
  • Available funds – applicants must show that they can support themselves financially whilst they are in the UK. 10 points are available in this category for those who can prove that they have a minimum of £1600 available in cash funds so that they can support themselves financially whilst they are in the UK.
Candidates under the Youth Mobility Scheme must also prove that they have no dependent children under the age of 18 and that they have not previously been in the UK under the Youth Mobility Scheme or as a working holiday maker.

Foreign nationals who come to the UK under the Youth Mobility Scheme may stay in the UK for a maximum of two years and are allowed to leave and re-enter the country during that time. They may not switch to any other immigration category once they are in the UK.

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