Indian restaurant owners across Britain have prepared a 75-page document asking the UK government to introduce short one-year visas so they can bring in chefs from the Indian sub-continent to keep their businesses going.
The document has been submitted to British Prime Minister David Cameron, UK homes secretary Theresa May and employment minister Priti Patel.
“We propose a tightly controlled, temporary work visa scheme where expert chefs from outside the European Union (EU) are allowed to enter the UK on very strict employment terms. These terms would limit their employment to a maximum of one year with no right of return, no chance of residency or out-of-work benefits,” the submission put by Enam Ali, founder of the British Curry Awards said.
“We know historically that immigration is a political exercise for any party who wants to use it to gain a political advantage, but sadly it is the curry industry that is paying the price for it,” the document said.
“We therefore urge the government to help our industry and we strongly recommend that the immigration laws covering bringing in chefs from abroad be made, even on a temporary basis, more adequately flexible,” it said.
“One suggestion would be short-term visas, similar to Germany, the US and the Middle East, where they have to leave the country after their term. There would be no burden at all on the welfare system or the taxpayers.” it added.
There are fears that unless the government makes an exception for chefs trained in Indian style cooking, up to a third of the estimated 12,000 curry restaurants and takeaways in Britain may have to close.
The government’s view has been that children train in their parents’ profession but most of the second and third generation immigrants are attracted to alternative professions.
“They have their own choices to make in life. We can’t force them into a profession. And hiring locally becomes equally difficult because it is a very culture-specific skill,” said Amin Ali, founder of Red Fort - one of London’s most famous Indian restaurants.
Under a reviewed Tier 2 category of visas for non-European migrants, chefs also have to fulfil a new higher salary threshold of 29,570 pounds to be able to come and work in the country, which the industry says is unrealistic in terms of average salaries for lower level chefs they require.
Meanwhile, the UK Home Office said: “We continue to welcome the very top chefs who promote innovative and authentic cuisine here in the UK and these type of skilled cooks are on the shortage occupation list. We want to nurture more home-grown talent and encourage young people in this country who want to pursue a skilled career”.
“This means the restaurant sector offering training to attract and recruit resident workers to meet their staffing needs. The industry is starting to make progress in this area, recruiting and training more chefs in the UK, and this needs to continue,” the office said.