Conservative peer calls for shortage of au pairs to be fixed by special Brexit rules

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger. (Chris McAndrew/Creative Commons)
Baroness Hodgson of Abinger. (Chris McAndrew/Creative Commons)

A Conservative peer has called on the government to introduce special immigration rules to fix a shortage of au pairs.

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger told the House of Lords that Brexit had meant there was no visa route to bring au pairs to the UK.

Speaking in the House of Lords on Monday, she said the lack of au pairs would affect "hard-working families".

She said the government had previously promised a temporary visa work route, but that none had yet to be delivered.

"The au pair scheme... 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," Baroness Abinger said.

"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?

baroness hodgson house of commons au pairs
Baroness Williams of Trafford has ruled out any special treatement for au pairs. (

According to the British Au Pair Agencies Associations (BAPAA), over 40,000 families in the UK relied on au pairs for childcare when changes to immigration rules came into place post-Brexit.

Baroness Abinger's comments were mocked by some, with Conservative peer Lord Lilley - a high-profile supporter of Brexit - warning that peers would be "left open to ridicule if the only exception we are prepared to make is to help us deal with the servant problem".

The field of au pairs is not the only area that has faced immigration difficulties since the UK left the EU - with changes to immigration rules also exacerbating worker shortages caused by the pandemic in areas like HGV drivers and fruit pickers, with affected sectors calling for the government to adjust immigration rules.

Earlier this year, the government agreed to provide HGV drivers from Europe with temporary visas until Christmas Eve to help tackle the crisis ahead of the festive period when driver shortages will have the greatest impact on consumers in shops and supermarkets.

Conservative home office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford told the Lords the government did not have plans to amend the au pair system.

European lorries parked in Dover, Kent, as the Government is considering temporary measures to tackle the shortage of HGV drivers which is wreaking havoc on a number of UK industries. Picture date: Sunday September 26, 2021.
HGV have seen steep payrises amid driver shortages this year in part caused by a reduction of lower paid EU workers (PA Images) (PA)

One of the key arguments Brexit supporters made during the referendum, and post-Brexit, is that foreign workers often work for less in certain sectors and therefore pushed wages down.

This was demonstrated in part when British HGV drivers saw large pay rises amid driver shortages.

Watch: Soldiers deliver fuel in UK due to lorry driver shortages

Au pairs provide childcare and help out with household chores and in return usually receive free board, free lodging, as well as around £75-£85 per week as per government guidelines.

However, critics say the changes to the au pair system impact young people seeking to explore different countries the most by limiting their opportunities.

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"This is not really about au pairs, is it?" said Labour peer, Baroness Chapman of Darlington

"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?"

Last year, BAPAA chairwoman Jamie Shackell told the BBC that the end of the au pair arrangement with the EU would cause families both at home and abroad real difficulties in childcare.

"Families have said they might have to give up work and claim benefits because they cannot afford to have a nanny, and breakfast and afternoon clubs don't work if you work shifts," said Shackell.

"We are flummoxed by it all. It's a mutually-beneficially cultural exchange programme."

Watch: Supply chain crisis: Haulage firms 'horrified' at plans to relax rules on overseas HGV drivers