Indian restaurants cautious over Brexit promise

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Jul 11, 2016 19:52 IST
Employment minister Priti Patel, who was one of the leading Brexiteers, had called for a leave vote to “save our curry houses”. (AFP)

Britain’s June 23 vote to leave the European Union may have upset millions, but there is cautious optimism that the crisis caused by severe shortage of chefs in the country’s 4 billion-pound curry industry will be eased through recruitment from the Indian subcontinent.

It was an explicit promise of the Vote Leave camp during the referendum campaign that leaving the EU would rescue the industry crippled by visa rules that make it difficult to hire chefs from India. Industry bodies say every week, two restaurants have been closing due to the crisis.

“We hope there will be a more flexible system to recruit chefs from abroad, but it will take at least two-three years. Also, the minister who introduced the tough restrictions – Theresa May – may be the new prime minister. So let’s wait and see”, celebrity chef Cyrus Todiwala told HT.

Visa restrictions include higher salary threshold that not many owners can afford to pay. The chef shortage has been building up over the years, affecting restaurants that offer Indian and other non-EU cuisines such as Chinese.

Manoj Vasaikar, who owns three upmarket restaurants in London, said: “Besides the chefs crisis, I am also seeing a curtailment in spend. There was uncertainty before the referendum, now it is worse. If people have less disposable income as a result of Brexit, why will they come to restaurants after it actually happens?”

Given the considerable demand in areas dominated by Indian and Asian communities, there are reports that some Indian restaurants employ illegal immigrants as chefs, inviting visits and severe penalties by immigration officers.

But Mukesh Alora, who last week opened a trendy restaurant called ‘Delhi Live’ in Romford, has hired chefs with experience in Taj and Ashoka hotels at high salaries. It is no longer easy to find the right chefs to ensure high quality food and the right experience for customers, he said.

Employment minister Priti Patel, who was one of the leading Brexiteers, had called for a leave vote to “save our curry houses”. Due to what she called a “biased” immigration policy that favours EU nationals, Indian restaurants were starved of vital chef skills.

“Our curry houses are becoming the victims of the uncontrolled EU immigration rules,” she had said. “By voting to leave the EU, we can take back control of our immigration policies, save our curry houses and join the rest of the world.”

The David Cameron government wanted new chefs to be trained within the country, but specialist colleges and apprentice schemes in recent years have not met the requirements of the industry. Todiwala regrets the lack of funding for training initiatives.

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