Little Australia’s uncertain future

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Visitors and tourists from Down Under to New York increase, but challenges remain for would-be expats


  • Two Hands Café on Mott Street, which replicates Australia's beachside vibe. Photo: Mihika Agarwal

On a chilly November morning, Two Hands Café, at Mott and Broome Streets, is bustling with Australian expats. A few are serving avocado toast and flat white lattés, others are partaking of those distinctly Down-Under delicacies.

One of these is Matt Webb, who, along with his wife, moved from Australia to the city on a green card.

“I wanted to move to the States — either L.A. or here — and we chose New York for the adventure and because it’s a completely different lifestyle,” said Webb, who waits tables at Two Hands in Nolita, a neighborhood known to some as Little Australia for its multitude of Oz-inspired outlets.

According to U.S. government data cited by New York-based non-profit The Australian Community, the number of tourists from Down Under to the United States has nearly doubled since 2007, with 1.3 million Aussies visiting in 2015 — despite the relative plunge of the Australian dollar compared to the U.S. dollar.

But if tourists making the rounds through the States have climbed, longer-term visitors positively spiked recently. Australians on B1-2 visas, which typically allow longer stays Stateside, grew 54 percent last year, from 8,359 in 2015 to 12,872 in 2016.

Others are staying even longer, intent on building a life in the United States.

Among those is Adam Lewis, who became principal at Loyola School, a Jesuit high school on the Upper East Side earlier this year.

Lewis moved from Melbourne with his wife and three children before taking the helm at the Park Avenue school in July.

“Australia’s more laid back; the pace of life in Manhattan suits me,” said Lewis, who said he was drawn to the city for the range of people with different backgrounds and the culture on offer here.

James Boland, the founder and president of The Australian Community said Australians are settling in just about every city neighborhood, although most live in downtown’s districts.

“There are certainly a few Australian businesses in Nolita, but this only represents a small percentage of total number of Australian businesses in New York City,” he said. “In fact most of our members live downtown in TriBeCa, FiDi and Battery Park with pockets on the Upper West Side and Upper East Side as well as Harlem.”

But you can also expect to find Oz expats in Brooklyn. “I find that people with children move to Williamsburg,” said Webb, who lives in Greenwich Village

But Aussie expats, like those from other countries, also face challenges, specifically employment. While some Australians are settling permanently in the city, others are still struggling to find a job. According to a recent survey conducted by The Australian Community, the number of approvals E-3 visas – issued to Australian professionals – increased by just 1.6 percent, a significant decline from prior years. As of June, there were about 11,500 Australians in New York City on E-3 visas — carved out from a 2005 trade agreement between the U.S. and that country — which allow Australian residents with a “legitimate offer of employment” to extend their stay two years, and even indefinitely.

Still, roughly 1 in 10 Australians in the U.S. this year were likely to repatriate, According to the Australian Community.

“It is more difficult for professional expats from any country to live and work in New York City,” Boland said. “You have to be exceptional at what you do professionally, and you have to be highly resilient to start over in a new country.”

Emma Goddard had always dreamed about American college life and living in New York. Three years ago, she studied for a semester in the University of Southern California and moved to New York about four months ago when she found out she qualified for a J-1 Visa. She said she had to take the opportunity.

“Pretty much everyone’s that lives here has moved from a different state or country,” Goddard said. “Everyone doesn’t have their family around them, nobody has cars, everyone is searching for jobs.”

Goddard said her biggest difficulty is finding a permanent job. She started applying to companies a few weeks ago but has had little luck. She thinks the deterrent for employers is that they think she would need sponsorship in a year. Goddard said employers are wary.

“But I think, as soon as employers read my resume and see Australian, I think immediately they probably kind of freak out,” she said.

Webb, too, is struggling to find permanent work. His wife, who wants to work as an assistant director and producer, has been working at an advertising agency for a few months but he hasn’t managed to find a job in her preferred career niche.

“It’s very competitive and we don’t need visa sponsorship or anything like that so it definitely takes that away but it’s still quite difficult,” he said.

Despite her hardships, Goddard said she feels at home in the city.

“It’s very different from Australia but it’s become my home now,” she said.

Sophie Herbut contributed to this report.

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