After nurses, Indian chefs too face UK visa heat

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Jul 13, 2015 00:50 IST
Dharmesh Lakhani, owner of Bobby’s, a well-known Indian restaurant (in picture), and chairman of Belgrave Business Association in Leicester, is among those worried about the new rule.

Unless chefs recruited from India since 2011 earn an annual salary of £35,000 – a high figure for Britain’s popular Indian restaurant industry – they will not be allowed to remain here under new rules coming into force from April 2016.

Days after health officials raised the alarm over Indian and other non-EU nurses being affected by the rules, leaders of the £3.2 billion-Indian restaurant industry have also expressed concern over its impact at a time of shortage of skilled chefs. Since 2005, the government has been encouraging British/EU nationals here to learn Indian cooking skills and take up jobs in the industry.

As the new rules come into force from April 2016, the David Cameron government has announced a ‘blueprint’ to further restrict non-EU professionals’ access to Britain’s labour market from next year, attracting criticism from FICCI and other Indian industry bodies.

Dharmesh Lakhani, a leading restauranteur and chairman of Belgrave Business Association in Leicester, is among owners concerned over the impact on the industry after April 2016. His restaurant, Bobby’s, since 1976, is among the most known in the east Midlands.

Uday Dholakia, chairman of national Asian Business Association, told Hindustan Times: “There is a contraction at heart of British politics: first, whilst there is a surge to romance trade and inward investment with India, there is no underpinning strategy with clear steer on its relevance to import of labour force”.

He added: “Secondly, whilst ministers and shadow politicians jump on the band-wagon to support one Indian link after the other, there is no meaningful consultation with the British Asian business communities on new immigration laws on non-EU chefs, laws on allergens and the spectre of import ban on Indian fruit and vegetables”.

According to Lakhani, it is ‘unrealistic’ to pay £35,000 to chefs: “For me, as a restaurateur, the changes will affect the quality of Indian food across the UK. There might be some larger London-based businesses which can afford to pay £35,000 for a head chef, but not your traditional high street restaurant”.

“Across the country, standards will go down if that becomes the case,” he told Leicester Mercury, a leading daily in the east Midlands. He also reflected the growing trend of children of first general Indian restaurant owners choosing other professions, which added to difficulties in running restaurants.

“Young people don’t want to be chefs. They want other careers. But even if they did, the standard of training would not be good enough in this country. In India, Asian cooking is bred into people from an early age. They have training in all kinds of styles of Indian cooking and have invaluable experience which can’t be taught at college.”

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