“MY daughter recently had a child. She is an American citizen, as is her husband. Both of my parents were born in Ireland, and I have an Irish passport.  A first cousin’s daughter who lives in Dublin would love to come to the U.S. to be a nanny for my daughter’s family. She will turn 20 this summer, and doesn’t have any serious job to speak of back home. We would happily provide her with room and board and a salary. She is a great girl and we’d love to get her out here legally. Being illegal isn’t an option because she is very close to her family back home and would want the chance to be able to see them. How can we go about getting her legal? Is it even possible? We see lots of ads for ‘legal’ nannies for hire, so how can we get our cousin to be one of those?”

IT’S very, very difficult to sponsor a foreign-born nanny for legal status in the U.S., not to mention quite costly. First, about those ads you see for legal nannies for hire – perhaps the agency placing the ad has recruited candidates who are legal residents or even U.S. citizens.

Also, many of these placement agencies make use of a J-1 visa program run by the State Department that is specifically geared towards au pairs. Perhaps this J-1 option is one that your family might consider, but it’s not without its significant limitations. Basically, your cousin would have to register with a State Department-approved sponsor organization, which would then act as a J-1 visa sponsor. Those availing of the J-1 au pair program must have the equivalent of a U.S. high school degree, must speak English, be between the ages of 18 and 26, and must have at least 200 hours of documented infant child care, if caring for a child younger than two.  The au pair must also plan on studying while here, and commit to completing six hours of academic credits.  There are also a host of other requirements which can be further researched at http://exchanges.state.gov/jexchanges/programs/aupair.html.

Limitation number one – the au pair program allows the caregiver to remain in the U.S. for only 12 months. An extension of a further year is possible under certain circumstances. Limitation number two – the State Department’s list of designated sponsors charge thousands of dollars for families to participate in the program. For example, InterExchange in New York charges host families $6,990 to participate. This is exclusive of the weekly salary that would have to be paid to the au pair, and InterExchange’s fee is typical of that charged by other designated organizations.

So, in other words, a firm like InterExchange could sponsor your cousin for a J-1 exchange visa, but your daughter would have to pay the company the aforementioned fee to hire her.  If that’s a possibility then perhaps she should investigate the J-1 program further, as approved candidates can have visas issued in only a few months if all requirements are satisfied.

It’s also possible to sponsor au pairs/nannies for green cards, but this is a painstakingly slow process – the children requiring the care could be nearly fully grown when all is said and done! Your daughter could sponsor your cousin for a green card under the employment-based third preference skilled worker category, but the wait time for processing is prohibitive. For May 2011, those with third preference petitions filed on or before August 22, 2005 are being called for final processing. Third preference green cards also require a labor certification from the Department of Labor attesting that there are no qualified Americans to assume the job on offer – that’s not an easy approval given the number of U.S. citizens out of work these days.

Also, eligible third preference skilled worker nanny applicants have to have at least one year of experience as a domestic worker, and the employer must prove that the person’s employment is a business necessity.