Immigration Rules Cause UK “Curry Crisis”

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Former UK foreign secretary Robin Cook’s famous 2001 speech cited chicken tikka masala as the national dish of Britain, as an example of the way that the country had changed, but now, the country is in a curry crisis. The previous prime minister, David Cameron, had pledged to protect the £4.2bn curry industry which employs 100,000 people, to get the skilled Asian chefs needed into the UK. Then home-secretary Theresa May, now prime minister, admitted that curry chefs are a shortage occupation. But nothing has been done since—that was 2013.

Until 2005 there was a sector-based visa scheme that allowed curry restaurants to bring in skilled staff, but it was closed because of allegations that it was abused by immigrants who wanted to settle in the UK permanently. Therefore, the current shortage has been caused by increasingly tough immigration rules; these restaurants are now unable to hire the skilled chefs needed. Over the past few years, some of these jobs have been done by EU workers, but after Brexit, there is no guarantee that this source of labour will continue. 

New immigration rules state that a chef from outside the UK must be paid £29,570 after deductions for accommodation and meals, which is too expensive for most local curry restaurants. Moreover, the jobs cannot be in a restaurant with a takeaway service, which most curry houses rely upon. This makes it difficult for these businesses to grow, and the situation is escalating, with two to three curry houses closing a week.

Lord Bilimoria, who set-up Cobra beer, is part of an all-party parliamentary group lobbying to reverse the law, which he has called “ridiculous” and “discriminatory”.

Bangladesh Caterers Association (BCA), set up in 1960 to represent the catering industry run by ethnic Bangladeshis, is lobbying the government to support this industry and do something about the chef skills shortage. The Sylhet region of Bangladesh is where around 80 perent of British curry chefs hail from. In these families that run curry houses, the younger generations have decided to move away from catering to more lucrative professional jobs.

To help boost the morale of this industry, BCA hosts its annual ‘Curry Chef of the Year’ and ‘Restaurant of the Year’ awards, now in their 12th year to showcase the talent of chefs from around the UK’s curry houses and takeaways. These chefs and curry houses work hard, serving local communities and boosting local economies. These awards help put these restaurants on the map and also help to grow the next generation of chefs.

Kamal Yakub, President, BCA says: “These are difficult times and the awards are key to keeping this industry’s momentum going. Food brings people together and these curry houses and takeaways need our national support – from the media to government. We are in crisis and these government policies are damaging our industry, which provides the food that our country loves.”

Photo Credit: BCA Member/Blue Bengal