Johan Egelstedt, 19, who arrived at Heathrow airport earlier this week, was detained for three hours and searched. He was told by immigration officials that au pairs had to conform to strict requirements.
The authorities had planned to send him back to Sweden immediately, but after intervention from the family he was due to visit he was granted temporary admission until next Monday.
Mr Egelstedt had been invited to the Leicester home of Sue and Iain Baughan, who had advertised in a newspaper in Vasteras, 80 miles west of Stockholm. Mrs Baughan said yesterday: 'We are absolutely horrified that men can be excluded from au pair work in this day and age. We're doing all we can to help Johan to stay.'
Mrs Baughan, 38, is about to start as an education officer with the charity Christian Aid and needed someone to look after Tom, 11, Jamie, nine, and Jenny, six. She said: 'We chose Johan partly because he would act as a role model for the children. We don't want them growing up thinking child care is purely a woman's concern.'
They interviewed Swedish candidates of both sexes over the telephone and picked Mr Egelstedt because of his 'confident and personable' manner. They sent him a letter of introduction to show to officials when he arrived in Britain on Monday.
Mr Egelstedt, who plans to become a teacher, wanted to improve his English before returning to Sweden next summer for his national service. He said: 'I don't see why men can't be au pairs. I have a male friend who went to France as an au pair without any trouble.'
But immigration rules say an au pair must be 'an unmarried girl aged 17 to 27 inclusive without dependants' who is allowed into Britain 'to learn the English language and to live for a time as a member of an English-speaking family'.
The Home Office said that, at a time of high unemployment, it was government policy to restrict the numbers coming to Britain looking for work.
Young men have not been included 'in case it opens up an avenue for potential abuse of UK immigration control in a way that could undermine the objective of protecting the domestic labour market'.
The Equal Opportunities Commission said it was 'deeply concerned' but powerless to act. The Immigration Act 1971 predates the Sex Discrimination Act, which was passed in 1975 and is not retrospective.Reuse content