Au Pairs Positive About Danish Eldercare Au Pair

Au pairs mostly positive about ‘eldercare au pair’ rule change, but wouldn’t say no to more  language lessons and money

Elderly couples with live-in au pairs could soon be a feature of Danish society as the result of rule changes introduced last month by Søren Pind, who is both the immigration minister and the development minister.

The announcement of the change – which also includes stretching au pair stays from 18 to 24 months – set off a lively row between politicians and pundits.

Under the change, retired couples who do not need special nursing care can now invite a foreign au pair, between the ages of 17 and 30, to live with them and do 18-30 hours per week of cleaning, cooking and shopping in exchange for room and board and a minimum of 3,050 kroner per month.

Opponents claimed the change exploits a tradition intended to be a cultural exchange between equals (a sort of ‘student exchange’ with light housekeeping and babysitting on the side) and instead makes it a blatant import of migrant workers who are paid at one-third to one-quarter the going rate for domestic work.

But amidst the political slings and babble from both sides on the controversial topic, the opinions of au pairs themselves were barely heard.

The Copenhagen Post therefore asked seven au pairs currently working in Denmark what they thought about the rule changes. Their reactions were surprisingly less polarised than the political debate would suggest and generally enthusiastic for the rule changes.

“I think it was a very positive change in the au pair rules,” said Fernanda Paiva from Brazil. “Especially if the au pair doesn’t like working with kids, but still wants to try this experience.”

An au pair from the Philippines, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed.

An opinion survey by Berlingske newspaper last week showed significant interest among Danes in so-called ‘eldercare au pairs’. Some 28 percent of those polled, in all age groups, said they could imagine having an au pair when they retired. Many surveyed said elderly couples could use the help with cleaning, cooking and gardening – “but also talking,” according to 73-year-old Amager resident Ingrid Slott.

“I would take [the au pair] to art exhibitions and go to the theater. I think it would feel very safe to have another person with me,” Slott added. “My first thought, when I heard of the rule change, was that old people have a lot more time to talk with an au pair than busy young families with children do.”

Helle Stenum, a Roskilde University researcher whose specialty is au pairs and migration, told Berlingske that the rule change allowing for eldercare au pairs could as much as double the demand for au pairs in Denmark.

The overwhelming majority of au pairs here today are young woman from the Philippines. Out of 2,649 au pair visas issued last year, over 80 percent went to Filipinos. The long move is not always easy.

“Being miles away from our loved ones and families back in our country of origin is not so easy, but if we stay in a nice and happy family, I can say that there’s nothing to be sad about,” said Aleli Andog from the Philippines.

Babaylan-Denmark, a network for Philippine women in Denmark and throughout Europe, has been working to improve conditions and opportunities for Filipino au pairs for more than seven years. The network’s founder, Filomenita Mongaya Høgsholm, was also positive about the changes to the au pair rules.

“My assessment is that the rule changes are a good thing for the au pairs. That is what I have heard from the au pairs,” Høgsholm told The Copenhagen Post. She added that au pairs who live with elderly couples “probably will have easier work. Normally it is with small children. If you look at the nanny portion, it is a really big responsibility. With the elderly, it will mainly be cleaning, shopping, and cooking.”

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