Mary Poppins returns to the big screen on 19 December and is the quintessential British nanny. But how easy is it for migrants to secure work in the UK as au pairs? UK Visas and Immigration won’t waive border control for someone travelling by umbrella or kite, so what visas are needed?
The Immigration Rules applicable to non-EU migrants do not cater for nannies and au pairs. Childminders and related occupations are classed as ‘lower skilled’ work, so there is no option for sponsored employment in that area. This restriction means that for a migrant to take work as a nanny, they must have permission to enter the UK that is not dependent on their employment with a UK family.
The most obvious route for non-EU nannies is entry to the UK under the domestic worker visa scheme. However, in line with modern slavery measures, access to this visa category has been reduced in recent years, with applicants needing to satisfy a number of requirements including the need to have worked for their employer for at least 1 year before travel to the UK. This route, therefore, is only for workers with a pre-existing (overseas) relationship with their employer, and so is not of use to British families looking to hire help at home.
Another option is a temporary migration scheme, such as Tier 5 Youth Mobility. This permits UK entry for a period of up to 2 years, and is generally used by young adults to gain life experience in the UK. The scheme is restrictive, however, limited to those aged 18-30 and from one of the qualifying nations (Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea and Taiwan). The time-limited nature of the category is also non-negotiable, meaning that it is no long-term option. Cultural exchange programmes are another short-term visa route which may be applicable, but again they do not give families long-term stability.
Given these restrictions, it is not very surprising that a large proportion of the migrants working in the UK as au pairs are EU nationals who (currently) have free movement rights to travel and take up work. However, as we move towards Brexit in March 2019 (at time of writing…) there is an end date for the pool of candidates from this source, and less incentive for newcomers to travel. From the referendum onward, there has been a decline in the number of EU nationals relocating to the UK, and the Sunday Times reported a drop of more than 40% in au pair applications when comparing 2016 numbers with pre-referendum 2015. In addition, January 2021 may see the introduction of a whole new immigration system, designed to bring EU migration in line with applicants from elsewhere in the world. This will almost certainly mean restrictions on the number of EU nationals entering the UK, as well as on the types of roles that they will be permitted to fill. Childminders and related occupations are unlikely to survive a migration cull of that type, meaning that UK families might find themselves struggling to hire help in future.