Migrant Domestic Workers: Filling a Demand for Caregiving

A research study called “A Very Private Business: Exploring the Demand for Migrant Domestic Workers,” published in the European Journal of Women’s Studies in 2007, outlines some of the advantages of hiring migrant domestic workers from the perspective of the employer. Although this study focused primarily on the benefits for U.K. residents, the findings can be applied to most Western countries and provide an added degree of insight into the value of legal and illegal immigrants in these areas of the world.

Young and Old Alike

The most enduring stereotype attached to migrant domestic workers is that of an unskilled maid or housekeeper with a limited grasp of the language spoken in the country in which they work. The 2007 study, however, found that the greatest demand for these immigrant workers is in caring for children and elderly individuals in the household of their employer. Home care workers typically provide added support for families in which both parents work or families with only one parental figure. These caregivers typically work long hours and may live with their employer to provide even greater availability for their services. The cost of hiring qualified individuals from inside the country to provide this level of care may be prohibitive even for well-to-do families. Migrant domestic workers provide added flexibility without the overwhelming cost of locally available personal care.

Limited Access to Public Options

Even in the U.K., finding adequate and affordable alternatives to in-home care for infants, preschoolers and aging relatives can be challenging. Additionally, many migrant workers are willing to take on adjunct tasks around the home that may include cleaning, preparing meals and offering emotional support for family members. Employing a migrant domestic worker in preference to locally available caregivers or public and private care centers can provide a more comfortable environment for children and can allow greater continuity for older family members in a familiar and secure environment.

Increased Stability and Ongoing Relationships

The au pair system in the U.K. allows legal migration and work status for individuals who enter the country to perform childcare tasks. Other migrant domestic workers may enter under E.U.-approved arrangements or under a strict quota system that determines need for non-U.K. workers to fill these jobs; however, as in the U.S., a significant number of the domestic workers in the U.K. are in the country without legal papers and without recourse to other employment. This provides added pressure for migrant workers to retain their current positions and can lead to longer-term relationships with families that can prove beneficial to all parties.

The power imbalances inherent in the employer-illegal worker relationship make these arrangements less desirable in most cases. However, the presence of these workers can significantly benefit their employers and can provide added financial support for all parties to the arrangement.

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