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New policy hits Indian restaurants

New British immigration policy has put the restaurants at the receiving end, reports Nabanita Sircar.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2006 19:58 IST

The popularity of Indian restaurants could suffer a severe setback as a result of new British immigration policy.

The neighbourhood curry house and Chinese takeaway risk being replaced by kebab shops, if they do not succeed in their campaign to persuade the Government to continue letting thousands of Asian people into the country to help to make the curries. But ministers are not listening.

They have told caterers to speak English in their kitchens so that vacancies can be filled by workers from Eastern Europe. Meanwhile the rush of East European asylum-seekers is beefing up the kebab house business.

Fighting to save their authenticity, the first lobby of Parliament by representatives of Britain's 250,000-strong Chinese community has urged politicians to make a special case to save the locally stir-fried chop suey. A leading community member said that staff in Britain's 10,000 Chinese takeaways and 5,000 restaurants are mainly asylum-seekers, students and illegal immigrants.

But the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, to be debated soon by the House of Lords, would impose a two-year jail term and fine on employers hiring illegal foreigners. Students and workers refused visas would lose the right to appeal. The Government's new immigration strategy will encourage highly prized, non-European professionals but would admit only unskilled workers to fill labour shortages. The unskilled will have no right to settle.

Ashraf Uddin, the secretary-general of the Bangladesh Caterers' Association, said that at least 20,000 workers were needed to work in Britain's 10,000 Indian restaurants. But the Government has apparently told them to hire Eastern Europeans. Uddin said, "Unless they know our culture, our language, our way of working, its a complete mess."

Lord Chan, who chairs the Chinese in Britain Forum, said: "The main concerns are clear in that 95 per cent of Chinese catering businesses are not going to be taken over by members of the family. The person who buys the business would need to recruit people."

Thomas Chan, chairman of the Chinese Takeaway Association, estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 workers a year were needed. "The head chef will find it difficult to communicate with these Eastern Europeans," he said. "If there is no mutually understood language, how are they going to give instructions? It's not just a pinch of salt here and there. It's the culture."

Taflan Dikec, president of the National Association of Kebab Shops, said that there were already 40,000 kebab takeaways, with numbers growing fast. Refugees had provided a source of labour but Eastern Europeans were able to make more than kebabs.

Dikec said: "They are capable, if the Chinese and Indians gave them an opportunity. They have this myth that Chinese food can only be cooked by a Chinese person or Indian by an Indian."

The Home Office said: "Allowing the sector to continue to rely on low-skilled labour from outside the UK or EU would be self-perpetuating if it means the sector continues to be reliant on workers with particular language skills."

First Published: Jan 09, 2006 19:58 IST