Date of Award

December 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Rachel I. Buff

Committee Members

Aneesh Aneesh, Rachel Spilka, Christine Evans, Chia Y. Vang


Au Pair, Care Work, Domestic Work, Migrant Labor, Mothering, Polish Migration


Immigrant domestic workers are perceived as highly exploitable and expendable employees, yet they are entangled in a very complex global exchange of services. The main purpose of this study will be to revise existing knowledge and assumptions about the female migrant service sector, especially within the field of domestic and care labor, by comparing the work of au pairs with housecleaners. Although these two forms of work appear to have many similarities on the surface, they are actually at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of visibility and regulation. Unlike the highly regulated nature of au pair work and its history as work for the middle class, housecleaners operate in an entirely unregulated market for undocumented immigrant workers. I argue that the au pair program, the most prestigious form of care labor, was initiated after the Immigration and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) in order to provide a legal and regulated space for care workers that also secured access to distinction and exempted a very few temporary workers from the worst depredations of neoliberal service work. My findings in this study are a result of mixed methods research - based on my own interviews with au pairs and housecleaners in the Chicagoland area - but also on literary representations, theory, and the qualitative work of others.