New COVID-19 childcare crisis looms
A CHRONIC shortage of au pairs is striking Australia, especially in regional areas, as working-holiday visa holders flee the country and new ones are barred from entering the country due to the pandemic.
It means many families are being forced to choose between returning to work, or staying at home with the kids.
Backpacker and Youth Tourism Advisory Panel (BYTAP) are in urgent talks with the government in a bid to head off the looming au pair shortage.
The 180,000 working holiday maker visa holders normally in Australia has halved since the international borders shut, while more are expected to leave by September as the UK and European university year starts.
Wendi Aylward, managing director of the American Institute for Foreign Study and part of BYTAP, said she had heard heartbreaking stories of families having to choose between working or staying at home to care for their children.
She said it was a particular problem for regional areas, where access to child care could be more difficult, or for essential workers like doctors and nurses who worked shifts.
Brisbane l mum-of-three Briony Russell said au pairs were the only way she had been able to return to work as an intensive care unit nurse, but she was struggling to find a new one due to the shortage.
"It's taken me a long time to get back into my career and I don't want to have to throw it all away again," she said.
Ms Aylward called for au pairs were classed as essential workers so their stay could be extended, similar to health and agriculture workers under COVID-19 provisions, or for new entries to be allowed under strict quarantine arrangements.
"This is flexible child care, another option we can give families, while being a cultural exchange," she said.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said immigration had come to a halt under the COVID closures and would remain low for some time to come.
"Higher unemployment also means many roles that would have been filled by migrants can now be filled by Australians," he said.
"Backpackers are already able to work as au pairs with the one host family for up to 12 months, double the usual period allowed for most other jobs."
Originally published as New COVID-19 childcare crisis looms