Scottish curry chefs warn over impact of immigration curbs

By Reevel Alderson
BBC Scotland's social affairs correspondent

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Image caption,
The Scottish Curry Awards ceremony will hear that immigration curbs are hitting the sector

Indian restaurants are closing in Scotland because strict immigration curbs mean it is difficult to recruit top chefs from the Indian sub-continent, it has been claimed.

The warning comes as the Scottish curry industry will celebrate its annual awards ceremony in Glasgow on Monday.

The rules prevent non-EU chefs being employed if a restaurant offers a take-away service.

The UK government said this was designed to drive innovative cuisine.

But industry sources say it has led to restaurants closing because they cannot recruit skilled chefs.

The rules, laid down by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and the Home Office, are part of the Tier 2 visa scheme, which allows workers of sufficient skill levels to be employed on the Shortage Occupation List.

'Total insanity'

They must be paid at least £29,570 a year, and to meet the criteria the job must also not be in a fast food or "standard fare" outlet, or an establishment which provides a take-away service.

But Ajmal Mushtaq, who runs a restaurant in Hamilton providing up to 3,000 meals a week, said that was "total insanity".

Holding two portions of a curry - one on a plate, the other in a take-away carton - he said: "Here is a chicken tikka chasni, one of our top selling dishes.

"What the government are saying is: if I put that same dish into a container, I'm not allowed to bring expert chefs over from India.

"The quality is the exact same."

Image caption,
Ajmal Mushtaq says curry in a takeaway container means his restaurant is prohibited from recruiting top chefs from India

Mr Mushtaq said the restriction meant that plans to expand his restaurant have been put on hold.

He currently employs three Indian-born chefs who have been in Scotland long enough to qualify for permanent resident status, but wants to increase his staffing.

"As a result of bringing over three chefs a few years ago, I have been able to create 52 jobs in this business," he said.

"We are at the point of expanding our business. If I were to bring over another two chefs, I would be able to increase the number of employees up to 95 in this one establishment alone."

'Skills erosion'

The industry has been putting pressure on the government to review its rules, particularly in the wake of the Brexit vote, which it sees as offering an opportunity to workers outwith the EU.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel, who campaigned for a Leave vote said during the campaign, said it was a "travesty" that curry houses were subjected to a "second class UK immigration system" in comparison to EU chefs.

With a growth in online apps such as Hungry House and Just Eat promoting home delivery of food, Hans Ram, chief executive of the catering recruitment agency Goldstar Chefs, said the government approach to the Indian restaurant sector was wrong.

"They have totally misunderstood and misconceived the industry as being a low-paid, low-skilled jobs base. Which it is not," he said.

"The biggest consequence to this is actually the skills erosion - erosion of authenticity.

"It is affecting the product that the public are being served."

He also pointed out that the Indian restaurant sector in the UK is worth an estimated £4bn a year.