Aussie exodus: London is, like, so last decade

Londoners are wondering: where did all the Aussies go?

Ten years ago you couldn't move in the English capital for bartenders from Sydney and waiters from Melbourne. Earls Court was dubbed "Kangaroo Valley", and it was hard work walking down Clapham High Street without bumping into someone who knew someone who knew someone you went to school with.

But the statistics tell the tale. London is, like, so last decade.

According to the latest Home Office figures, obtained exclusively by Fairfax Media, the number of Australians heading to Britain for work has halved since 2005.

The exodus began when the financial crisis hit the City, but it hasn't stopped since.

There were no significant changes to the visa system - it's all about attitude and money.

The number of Australians moving permanently to Britain has increased steadily, from 4800 in 2001 to 9200 in 2011, the most recent year covered by Australia's Department of Immigration figures.

This increase has been dwarfed by a collapse in the number of young Australians undergoing that hallowed rite of passage, the two-year working holiday visa. The Youth Mobility Scheme - formerly the Working Holiday program - lets Australians aged 18 to 30 work in Britain for up to two years.

Back in the first quarter of 2005, more than 7000 young Australians headed to Britain, for the classic combination of part-time work, copious beer and cheap European holidays. However by the first quarter of 2013, only 3200 took up the opportunity.

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Youth Mobility Scheme visas are by far the most-used work visas for Australians going to Britain. But there has also been a steady decline in non-YMS work visas, and in non-work visas. It seems Australians are just plain going off London.

The Aussie "exodus" was first noticed in 2008, when The Times reported a record number headed home for Christmas after the financial crisis hit.

Mike Rann, Australia's high commissioner to Britain, puts the continuing trend down to the changing economies of Britain and Australia.

"With low unemployment, low inflation and 21 years of continuous economic growth, Australia is in a strong position globally," he said. "More than ever, young Australians are presented with opportunities on home soil."

At the Flat White in Soho, 23-year-old Nadine Stedman has also been shocked by the economic reality of 2013 London.

"Wages here are significantly lower, and living expenses are higher," she says.

Ms Stedman arrived six months ago on a UK passport, thanks to her British mother. "I always wanted to do the whole post-uni Europe travel thing," she says. "To see where it took me. It's like a rite of passage."

She is enjoying London, but says she has seen a lot of Australians who came over in the summer and looked for work, but started to rethink their plans.

Chris Hancock has noticed the trend from behind the bar at the Walkabout pub in central London, where he is general manager. The South African arrived in London in the heady mid-'90s, when antipodean expats ruled the capital.

The cost of living has grown significantly, he says. "Rents are through the roof. The general consensus among Aussies is they can make more money at home on the mines."

When the pound was worth three Aussie dollars, London's jobs were plentiful and rents not so exorbitant, it was possible to go over, work in a bar job, and see Europe. You could party hard and still save a nest-egg for the return to Australia, Now, not so much. "They realise how expensive it is to live in London and they think, 'Bugger it, I'll travel a bit then go home.'"

These days there are more professionals - doctors and lawyers - going to Britain than young people looking for a good time, Mr Hancock believes.

Kevin Ellis, chief executive of TNT magazine, keeps a keen eye on the trend - because it hits his bottom line. TNT is the "bible" for expats, who scour its pages for jobs and cheap travel deals.

"The number of Aussies and Kiwis coming to the UK has dropped significantly," he says.

But he says the work visa statistics don't tell the whole story. Because the dollar is so strong, and work opportunities so weak, young Australians just aren't going for work any more, he says. Instead, they just go on extended holidays.

"There aren't many jobs here - the Europeans are nicking them. The UK is awash with Polish plumbers."

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