This June, for the first time, Europeans between the ages of 18 and 25 will be able to come to the United States on a cultural exchange -- or J-1 -- visa and legally live with American host families and perform child-care duties.

"Au Pair in America" -- approved last week by the United States Information Agency -- is sponsored by the American Institute for Foreign Study Scholarship Foundation.

Unlike the generally informal au pair arrangements in Europe, however, the American program will be carefully regulated. According to Bill Gertz, a spokesman for the foundation, the program "differs from au pairs in Europe in the support system, it differs in the educational element, it limits the type and amount of child care that can be done, and it involves rigorous screening" both of the host families and of the au pairs.

Before this program was established, says Gertz, foreign youths worked in American homes illegally. "This program protects au pairs from any kind of abuse."

"Au Pairs in America," currently a two-year pilot program, is designed to be mutually beneficial. In exchange for living with an American family the au pair is expected to perform child care duties up to 9 1/2 hours a day, 5 1/2 days a week. They will be "giving the kids more than a normal baby sitter would," says Gertz. "They will be like a new member of the family . . . a responsibility on the family's part. When the au pair comes in, they have to get a part of American culture. It is important to know that it's a cultural exchange program."

Students will come for a one-year period, living with a family in or around Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas or Fairfield County, Conn. Approximately 1,600 participants from England, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries are expected during the two-year trial run. Each au pair must be fluent in English, have a secondary school diploma and have completed some college courses. They each must also have a valid driver's license, and some prior child-care experience, either with their own siblings or outside the home. Ninety percent of the participants will be female, but host families may request a male au pair.

Host families will pay $149 a week to participate, $100 of which will go to the student as spending money. The remainder will cover administrative costs, including round-trip transportation for the participants. Hosts also must pay transportation costs from New York City to their home, and up to $300 throughout the year toward the au pair's education. The youths will participate in extension courses or educational programs, but may not have outside employment.