I have a confession. I started looking for other au pair positions. It started as a fantasy search–I would find families and begin emailing them with my newly developed expectations as an au pair just to see how they would respond. Any family who had “becoming part of the family” as one of their core values were the families I would pursue. In these emails I would be very honest of my current situation (which, at this time, I was not planning to abandon) and the feedback I began to receive was shockingly helpful. My emails basically explained how I am more of a maid than an au pair and more a servant than a big sister. Apparently, this is a very common occurrence and most of these exploited maidysitters end up hastily abandoning this situation.
One family from Zurich (thank you Karen) delivered me with the daunting news that my current family was dead wrong about visas and that I had gotten myself into a terrible, nearly unfixable predicament. My predicament: upon acceptance of this job, Audrey informed me that I would not need a visa as long as I told customs I was visiting friends, I would be fine. She forgot to mention that I would only be fine for 90 days! After this period, I am officially illegal and they will fine me for everyday I stay over—in this case 270 days worth of fines.
Karen knows from experience. Just over a year ago, Karen had her American cousin employed as her au pair, although I should not say employed because like me, this family learned the hard way how strict Switzerland is about working visas and illegal immigrants. One fine day, Karen’s visaless cousin decided to travel to London for the weekend (after her 90 days of tourist travel had expired), and to her dismay, the immigration officers slapped her with a 800 chf fine, made her fly home immediately from the London airport and banned her from Switzerland for 6-months, leaving all of her belongings to dust over in her cozy au pair bedroom. It was then that Karen learned about the Schengen Agreement that passed in January 2009, which says that all Americans (and some other nationalities) are only allowed to stay in Europe for 90 days without a visa.
**Fyi. All au pairs are foreigners since another requirement is that a family cannot have an au pair that speaks the same mother-tongue as either parent.**
Upon learning this news, I went straight downstairs to discuss the visa matter with Audrey. Although I did not tell her about my exact conversation with Karen, I did tell her I was afraid of the consequences that come from not having a visa—the flying limitations, the fines and the possible 6-month expulsion from Switzerland. None of which I could afford or avoid without a proper visa.
“Oh Kori, don’t worry,” she said in a distracted and unconcerned manner, “I have had several au pairs that have been just fine with coming and going—not to mention I know a lot of cleaning ladies who live here illegally and they have never had any trouble.”
First note depicting Audrey’s ignorance and/or selfish oblivion, she has never had an American au pair—only Australian and other EU citizens in which completely different rules apply. Secondly, said “cleaning ladies” have mastered the plan of illegal working down to a science. I had a conversation with one such Portuguese woman who said she was borrowing her sister’s EU passport for emergencies, but when she plans to leave, she is doing it all by train.
Audrey, clearly unwilling to assist with my visa application, directed her attention back to her Farmville game.
Meanwhile, I decided to turn my family fantasy search into reality.