Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus Podcast. Following Brexit and amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is living and working in the United Kingdom as attractive as it used to be?
In the past two years, we’ve seen a mass exodus of many expats from the countries they were calling home. The number of visas granted to Aussies to live and work in the UK reportedly dropped 74% in 2020. That same year, the UK issued 48% fewer youth mobility and temporary worker visas to Kiwis. But are New Zealanders and Australians beginning to come back to the UK? And what opportunities are they finding when they arrive?
Clint Heine is the Manager and Director of Kiwis in London, a very popular Facebook Group set up to help New Zealanders – and Australians – to find jobs, places to live and socialise. He’s joining me in this episode to share his thoughts. Before we begin, you should know that this interview was recorded late last year in 2021, just before the current Omicron wave of Covid.
Clint, I was thinking back to the first time we met. It was in a pub in London, leading up to Christmas. It was a Christmas jumper party of some kind. And that was my introduction to yourself and to Kiwis in London. Can you tell me about this Kiwis in London community, which is so synonymous, not just with New Zealanders, but also Australians, when they move to the UK.
Clint: Wow. I remember that moment, actually. It was one of our first Kiwis in London Christmas parties we’d had. Only about a couple of hundred came that night. It was one of our first ones. Since then, it’s been going on – apart from obviously during Covid last year – with 1300/1400 people coming along.
Carlie: You must have had to get a bigger pub.
Clint: We did. We’ve got rather large venues and things like that now, so they can just keep us in there. But yeah, Kiwis in London’s been growing and growing since then. And mainly because people are coming to London, they’re getting a little lost and confused, and they want to find a friendly face or even a friendly accent – even if it sounds a bit Australian, as well. It’s all good. And we help people get jobs, get flats, and get drunk at the same time.
Carlie: And was Kiwis in London born out of your experience of moving to the UK and needing that support network?
Clint: Oh yeah, I came … I didn’t really have any friends here. I had a friend who got deported about a month before I arrived, so I managed to stay on his sister’s floor. And I didn’t really know much about anything to be honest. Social media wasn’t around then. The internet was, but all you had really was the TNT magazine. I didn’t really plug myself into any community at all.
Carlie: And when you were setting up in London, when you were kicking off Kiwis in London, in your experience, what were Australians and New Zealanders moving to the UK to do profession wise?
Clint: Kiwis in London is 10 years old now. So, around about 10 years ago, Kiwis and Aussies were doing the traditional thing. But moving away from just pure hospitality – I mean, that was the bread and butter for a long time, and the Kiwis and Aussies would get a place in Earls Court and Shepherd’s Bush and work for the typical, terribly low wages and share rooms and all go together on holiday on a band tour.
That’s all changed. Back then, I guess it was more people moving away from hospitality, doing slightly more professional things. There are plenty of Kiwi lawyers in the UK, you know, and accountants as well. And then, on top of that, office work is across the whole board. You can find Kiwis and Aussies doing almost anything.
Carlie: Yeah, it’s really interesting. When I moved, I was 28, so I was a bit older than all of the Australians I met when I first moved over, and they were all really focused on their working holidays. So, they were sharing flats, working low-wage hospitality jobs, just to fund their next Europe trip. Ah, and for me, I was aiming that little bit higher, for an office job to stay or move into a new profession.
So, you’re right. It really is a mixed bag of Aussies just after some adventure, who don’t really care how they earn their coin or where they rest their head at night, and those that are looking for a bit of a higher standard of living and a higher standard of working.
Clint: Oh, I’ll tell you what, I’ve noticed a huge difference between now and back then. Would I dare to say that we were more feral? Kiwis and Aussies were. And they were good times, because people would go out and think, I’ve got £20, what shall we do? And people were earning less but trying to look after the environment better, or spend less food-wise, or they’d go traveling on the cheapest possible coin they could. These days are so different. It’s frightening how different it is now.
Carlie: When you say different, is it because people have higher standards?
Clint: In the last few years, Australia and New Zealand got rich. And in rich countries, obviously people have higher standards. They have more expectations. They want to do more. But it’s not only that, they also want to do things more comfortably. They don’t want to be in the dorm rooms anymore. A number of travel companies have told me that people want private rooms when they’re traveling now rather than dorm rooms.
People want more for their money. They want to pay a bit more, they want to do a bit more, and they don’t want to be doing the same things we used to be doing 10 or 15 years ago.
Carlie: I mean, I remember just being blown away by the Sainsbury’s meal deal. I could get a really good sandwich and a packet of crisps and a drink for like a couple of quid. And I lived on those things.
Clint: Yeah. The Tesco’s sandwiches had me going for a while too.
Carlie: I think, as you get older, you’re less interested in slumming it in a dorm or even glamping. You want to do things a little bit more luxuriously.
Clint: The young ones are wanting this too now, though. They don’t want to get up at four in the morning to watch the All Blacks play or the Aussies play at a pub anymore. They’re going to sit at home on their phones and illegally stream the rugby. Whereas we’d be all lining up outside the chippies back in our day.
Carlie: Back in our day.
Clint: I know, I should get a rocking chair. But Aussies and Kiwis used to line up outside the walk about for an hour or two hours on an early, cold morning, go in and get a snake bite and a pie, and then watch the rugby. But this doesn’t happen anymore. You know, I’ve been struggling to get people to a rugby game. It’s crazy.
Carlie: That shift has happened in the last two years. And that’s coincided with a couple of big things. We’ve had Brexit, and we’ve also had this, you know, virus sweeping the world. So, I’m really curious. I mean, obviously Aussies and Kiwis are not as necessarily directly affected by Brexit, but I want to start there. What did you notice in the lead up to and since Brexit, when it comes to the appeal of the UK for Australians and New Zealanders?
Clint: I find it really confusing that New Zealanders and Australians would be any way emotionally involved or invested in Brexit, to be honest, because I looked at the map and New Zealand and Australia seemed quite a far away from Europe. I know I say that, but it baffles me how so many people are invested in Brexit. Brexit is a very British thing, and it’s for the Europeans as well. But for citizens from New Zealand and Australia, I don’t see why they would be worried by it at all, because nothing changes.
Unless they’re working for a company, perhaps, which might have an office in Europe, or there is travel involved, which might affect their visa. But even so, New Zealand and Australian passports have nothing to do with the Great British and the visa scheme. So, I can see a little bit of talk about it. People wondering what’s going to happen. Will I be able to go to Europe with my New Zealand passport on a British visa? Yes. There are silly questions, but that’s what I’m here for. There’s no such thing as a silly question, you know?
Carlie: Well, on my side, I would say it’s not so silly, because in my situation, I was living and working in the UK, but it was on a Maltese passport, a European passport. Yes. Not British or a visa. So, when Brexit happened, my company came to me and said, ‘Well, are you going to apply for settled status in order to stay in the UK?’ And at that point, I was about to move to France anyway. And the feeling I was getting was that my life was going to be way easier if I moved to mainland Europe than if I tried to stay in the UK and claim settled status as a European.
And I’m sure there is a percentage of Australians and New Zealanders who were in that same situation – on European visas, through their parents or grandparents, and having to decide, well, should we just go home, or apply to remain in the UK?
Clint: Yeah. I mean, the settled status scheme did get picked up by a lot of people. In fact, it was very interesting how that worked out numbers-wise. It seemed like a lot more people applied for it than they thought. I find British bureaucracy so out of touch sometimes. I’m not surprised. I encouraged everybody who had the opportunity to have a European visa or whatever to go for it – the settled status – because it was very easy. Although in the beginning, it wasn’t so easy. Apparently. you could only do it on an Android, but not an iPhone?
Carlie: I remember that. The technological glitches.
Clint: So British. But it seemed quite simple. And I hope that people did take advantage of it. I believe they did.
Carlie: Amid the talk of Brexit and the fact that so many European workers that the UK relied on would be less interested in coming work in the UK, there were discussions about opening freedom of movement, like the old EU-UK situation, for New Zealanders and Australians. What happened there, because there was a lot of excitement around it for a while?
Clint: CANZUK, they called it. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. I don’t know how you pronounce it. There was talk about it, but it was because they wanted to have this free movement between Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK. Terrible idea. I think it’s a terrible idea, and I’ll tell you why. There’s no way New Zealanders are going to vote to have free movement with another country other than Australia. They’re not going to let English or Canadians come in with the free rights the Australians have already. They voted against it the last two or three times.
Carlie: Right, because it would have to be reciprocal.
Clint: That’s right. And on top of that, I mean, and it sounds controversial, but why only the white countries in the Commonwealth? I mean, why is that? The biggest English-speaking country in the world is India. Why aren’t they involved? What about South Africa? Although, they kind of have their own problems. So, I mean, there’s always kind of situations where, why would the UK want to be seen to be opening up just to the white countries in the Commonwealth?
Carlie: I see. I didn’t realise it was selective amongst Commonwealth countries.
Clint: For a minute, I thought it sounded like a nice idea, but I don’t see how it’s going to work. I don’t think Australians also would be happy to have free movement.
Carlie: You might just get a giant influx of Brits into Australia wanting the weather. Then no one would stay in the UK.
Clint: That could happen. Yeah, and that would be great. But you know, they do have visas. The rules have changed a little bit. I’m sure you’re aware the Australians signed free trade with the UK, which also involved enhancements to the working holiday scheme for Australians, where instead of it being two years you get three for tier five youth mobility, and you can apply now up to 35 years old. It used to be the 31.
So, I think it’s quite similar to the Canadian work holiday scheme, where you can get to 35 and you can apply. This is always good news. When I see that – Australia getting this – I’m like ‘well done Aussie’, and where Australia goes, New Zealand follows.
Well, you’d think so. But we just signed our free trade deal less than a month ago with the UK and the tier five changes were not built into it. Not the same. We don’t have any of that yet. I sent a nice polite email to the high commission guys who were talking about how wonderful it was going, ‘Hey, where’s the visa changes?’ And they were like, ‘Well, you know, it’s going to be discussed. Future talk.’ I’m like, ‘Oh no, that’s bureaucrat talk for “Yeah, whatever mate”.’
Carlie: It could take a few years.
Clint: It could, I’ve got my timer set, so I’m going to remind them every six months. Hopefully soon New Zealand will get those enhancements as well, but I think that with the Australian enhancements, I think that’ll be a really good thing for us. More people will come over, because they’ll know they have three years rather than two. They can apply when they’re older, so older people can come over and do whatever they do. And it will be great. I’m hoping, anyway. It’ll definitely bring the crowds back to the UK.
Carlie: Bringing them back. And that’s kind of where I want to go next. We’ve discussed Brexit and free trade agreements and how that’s affected visas for Aussies and Kiwis wanting to live and work in the UK and vice versa. We had Covid happen. I know for Australia, they’ve just recently opened up the borders again, but for the majority of the last, you know, 18 months, you haven’t been allowed to leave Australia without a really compelling reason.
So, that’s really put the brakes on Aussies heading to the UK. And a lot of Aussies at that time – I know a lot of friends that I had living in London at one point – just decided that they didn’t know when Covid was going to end. Their life experience in the UK and Europe was not what they came here for, not how they expected to live. So, they decided to go home. Have you seen in the Kiwis in London community that similar thinking over the course of the pandemic?
Clint: Yeah. I mean, this whole situation was awful for everybody. I felt so much for the Australians, because you actually had to have a compelling reason to leave. Whereas the Kiwis kind of wanted to leave but they weren’t sure whether they’d be able to get back
We did see a lot of people leaving. The exodus was pretty big, but at the time, the New Zealand government told us to stay where we were, because they weren’t going to do any mercy flights, of course not. And it was fine, but we did lose a huge number of our community, and they were concerned. But you know, being 18 months in now, New Zealand’s having a bit of a reality check, and Kiwis are like, you know what, MIQ is slowly changing to seven days, to 14 days, whatever.
It worked well, although it’s controversial. But people are now thinking, wow, okay, we’re going to come. And I’m getting more and more Aussies and Kiwis kicking tyres at the moment on my page, asking lots of questions about what to do when they arrive. It’s amazing though, what their perception is of the UK, from listening to media at home.
It seems to be that everyone in the UK is dying in holes now from this hideous virus and contagion, from what we’re hearing. When kids are saying to their parents, ‘I’m going to the UK’, the parents are like, ‘Shock horror! But why? It’s so dangerous over there! You could die!’ The media are breathlessly counting one case here, one case there, and locking everything down, and it’s kind of created a climate of absolute hysteria. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Covid is not very nice, and it is still quite prevalent in the UK and Europe.
Carlie: Is that concern valid, do you think? Should it stop Australians and New Zealanders who have been planning to move abroad? Should it be delaying them?
Clint: Oh, no. Come, come, come, honestly. And it’s different, because the strategies that were done by New Zealand and Australian governments were elimination, which is an impossible thing to do. It’s a pandemic. I’ve been saying since the very beginning, you cannot hide from a pandemic. You know, getting back to that point though, you asked me whether Aussies should come over. I say, ‘Absolutely!’ There’s so much opportunity. It’s crazy.
Carlie: And the opportunity is where I want to go next. So, we know after Brexit, a lot of European workers who would be in certain sectors of the UK workforce are just not there anymore. Exacerbated, I’m sure, by the pandemic. And also, I’m sure to a degree, from the Aussies and Kiwis that decided – and other nationalities, like the South Africans, that decided to go home … I’ve seen the headlines of thousands of workers short in the trucking industry, heavy haulage, just getting goods to and from the UK, in the farming sector, hospitality … Where else are you hearing that the UK is crying out for workers?
Clint: Yeah, I think the UK is getting the worst of it, because there is a worldwide kind of procurement problem at the moment. But the UK have a problem, because as you say, people went home, and I think it was more exasperated by the pandemic, when people had to go home. And it’s easier to go home to Europe than it is to go back to New Zealand and Australia, as you know. So, trucking, retail, hospitality, even offices … Some people actually left the UK, left their flat which they had to pay rent on, and just left. So, there are shortages in everything.
Carlie: I even read an article in the Financial Review saying that there’s an unprecedented demand for Australian accountants in the UK. And they’re so desperate for accountants that they’re even willing to hire the accountants remotely. So you could technically work for a UK accounting firm doing UK accounting from Australia.
Clint: Yeah. I’m sure there’s many tax reasons why you couldn’t do that. As an accountant, they will probably know that.
Carlie: But it makes a good story.
Clint: It’s true. And they’re actually coming to me. The recruiters are coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, we want Aussies. We want Kiwis. We will Zoom them. And we’ll probably hire them on the spot.’
Carlie: Wow. The advice to me in 2013 was to tell the recruiters I was coming, but not to worry, because I wouldn’t have interviews until I was on the ground anyway. Now they’re really getting on the jump.
Clint: And it’s across the board, professionals especially. You read the article about Aussie accountants. I kind of squeeze it in for Kiwis as well. With lawyers, accountants, you name it, people are fizzing at the moment. We have that natural ability that we speak English, even if we have accents, and that’s what they want. But yeah, the professional sectors are just desperate.
At the other end, you’ve got people wanting the tradies, the Kiwi and Aussie tradies, and they are even more in demand. Every day, I get, ‘Do you have a carpenter?’ There’s no one here. So yeah, there’s plenty of professions across the board who are needed now.
Carlie: So, recruiters are jumping at the bit to get Aussies and Kiwis locked into a job and over to the UK. Does that mean there’s a lot of negotiation power when it comes to salaries? Because I know, when I came in 2013, the glory days of what you could earn in the UK were a little bit over for Australians and New Zealanders, in terms of the exchange rate and all that sort of thing. I was a little bit shocked that even an office salary for my level was pretty low. Is that still the case, or are things getting a little bit more interesting again on that front?
Clint: Yeah. It’s definitely interesting times, because anybody can negotiate. I think it’s the perfect time to negotiate. If it’s like something that you really want, they’re going to really want you at the moment, so it’s really about, you know, being a bit smart about it. If you’re with a recruitment agency, then by all means you really should be haggling as hard as you can, because they have their margins and they’re quite nice. So you can definitely try that.
But even with other employers as well. I know that at a lower scale, when I’m dealing with tradies recruitments, they’re upping their rates quite a bit. That’s for offices as well. They are willing to negotiate. Across the world, this whole big resignation thing is now a talking point in recruitment, and people are looking for more money, and people are going, ‘Well, okay, we’re going to have to do it.’ And the UK was addicted to cheap labour for such a long time. I found it very disrespectful.
Carlie: I mean, I was working for £6.90 an hour, doing up to 12-hour shifts, in hotels. Is that even a thing that Aussies and Kiwi will consider these days?
Clint: I was on £4.20 in a bar. Tell me about it. Yeah, it’s crazy. And the thing is though, obviously with everything being more expensive now, it is probably not a go, but people can live off it. It’s just really tough. You know, it’s Tesco’s value meals every day and 5p cans of baked beans. You can’t go wrong. But yeah.
So no, you can actually earn a bit more now. The availability is there. We’re going through the biggest job boom. So, there is so much opportunity to try and squeeze a little bit more out of people, because it can be done.
Carlie: Okay. So, if you want to move to the UK as an Australian or a New Zealander, you can definitely scratch hospo jobs off your list. Unless you really want to answer the call for the truck drivers, you probably don’t have to do that either. What about the other traditional elements that you need to sort out when you come over? Like, I was shocked at the cost of renting in London, and I very quickly realized it was just not realistic for me to ever expect that I could live by myself and remain relatively central.
What’s the deal with the rental market, for example? Are you still, you know, going to have to join up with five other people when you move to London, or is there a lot of availability now in rentals, and are prices down?
Clint: Isn’t it sort of a thing that people want to live with other people? I mean, I don’t know. The market is the same, but landlords are quite desperate to fill their rooms. Last year, I noticed, landlords were willing to bypass a deposit or give you a month free – little bits of bribery to get you into their place.
Carlie: I mean, I had Australian friends that had to pay six months’ rent up front when they moved into their flat in London. You can definitely not have to do that anymore?
Clint: Probably not. In some respects, you might still be asked, but at the moment, it’s slowly picking up now – the flatting world. Kiwis in London has a weekly kind of flatting board, and it’s been there forever, and before Covid it was out of control. There were so many rooms. Prices were higher and higher and higher, but because people had higher standards, they were moving away from living with four other people. They wanted to live with one other person, and they wanted to live in leafy Clapham, and they wanted to do this, and they wanted to do that.
So, if you want to afford things, you’ve got to realise that London isn’t just the Kiwi and Australian areas. There are a lot of places you can go to. And for reasonable money. I was living in Zone Three or Four, and I was paying 5£00 a month for a gigantic place with three or four other people. And it was very comfortable.
Carlie: And I have to say, we’ve been speaking a lot about London, but it’s also the case that people move to the UK and don’t live and work in London. There are other parts of the UK that exist.
Clint: Yeah, I’ve heard of these people as well. And there are plenty of opportunities around the UK as well. And sometimes people who come to the UK and don’t pick London are like, ‘You must come to Manchester. It’s the greatest place.’ Or, ‘Glasgow is the greatest place in the world.’
I’m sure there are places in the UK that are very nice, and they’re cheaper than London, although they slowly get more expensive as they gentrify themselves. But yeah, there are other places, and other places do have plenty of work as well. And traveling from these cities isn’t that much of a problem either. So, I mean, everything’s in the UK anyway. There are 68 million people here. We can’t go wrong, really, can we?
Carlie: I must say, I find the way you’ve been speaking about the UK and the opportunities, and ‘just come’, really interesting, because living here through Brexit, the vote, the transition, the leaving … Where I’m sitting here in France, people are not very interested in going to the UK anymore. They just see it as ‘over there’. It’s so much harder now. It’s like, ‘Why would you bother?’ But you really don’t have that same attitude about the UK and opportunities, and you think that it’s still worth it.
Clint: I’m positive. I’m a very optimistic person. Realistically, at the end of the day, Brexit only really started about 11 months ago. So, it’s always going to be a lot. There are going to be a lot of bumps and twists. But at the end the day, it’s what they wanted. And it will get better eventually. Covid kind of ruined everything anyway for everybody. So, we’ve not really actually seen the world through the eyes of a non-pandemic point of view.
We’ve not really seen the reality of anything anywhere in the world. The people that come, they get off the plane, and they realise they’re in the UK, they’re in London, and they think, I’m actually here. And it’s not that bad. You know, things are moving on; everything’s opening up. I mean, it’s really exciting now. This is the place with so many cool things you can do. And I love it. I realise, what was I worried about? What was I scared about? Why did I believe my grandmother when she said I was going to die in the first two days because of Covid?
People are realising that actually it isn’t that bad here. I mean, the weather’s rubbish, but who comes to the UK for the weather?
Carlie: So, Clint, you’re quite invested. You’ve been running Kiwis in London for the best part of a decade or more. You are a strong advocate for Kiwis and Aussies to come and live and work in the United Kingdom. What’s your best piece of advice for those who have been on the fence or who are plotting out a move at the moment and want to make sure they make the most of their opportunity?
Clint: YOLO. I hate that word, but you know, it is so true. What are you going to do all your life, if you’re not going to travel? The UK is such a perfect setting off point. If you don’t like it, just travel. What are you going to do at home? You’re going to have the same life in your country, no matter what. So why not give it a go? It’s not that expensive, and you should just do it. I mean, that’s all I can say, really, because your mind will be blown by what you see in Europe. Just do it. Just do it!
Carlie: That’s it for today. If you like what we do, don’t forget to subscribe to Expat Focus on YouTube or your favourite podcast app. Be sure to check out our other episodes. We cover all aspects of expat life, all over the world. And if there’s something or someone you’d love to hear on the show, let us know on social media. To get your free moving guides and other useful resources, head to expatfocus.com.