Bill’s ban on migrant workers’ families threatens future of Asian restaurants

AP Photo/Akira Suemori

Hundreds of local curry houses and Chinese takeaways could be forced to close if the government presses ahead with its new immigration policy.

The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, currently going through the House of Lords, would bar low-skilled workers from settling in this country and remove the right of appeal for workers refused visas.

With tens of thousands of new workers needed every year to staff Britain’s 20,000-plus Indian and Chinese restaurants and takeaways, the future of the multi-billion industry would be in peril.

Ministers maintain that the vacancies can be filled by Britons or migrants from the new EU countries. But campaigners on behalf of curry house and Chinese restaurant owners say that is simply not practical.

Enam Ali, chairman of the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs which represents the bulk of the UK’s 9,500 curry restaurants, said: “The language and cultural barriers are just too high to be surmounted.

“It sounds idealistic to put several nationalities together in the kitchen, but even if they could all speak perfect English – which, of course, they don’t – there would still be a basic lack of understanding among non-Asians about what is required to create an Indian meal. Most East Europeans wouldn’t know a thing about the spices we use or the way we prepare dishes.

“We don’t have time to train them either. We’re in a very competitive industry, and our customers expect consistent quality. That puts real pressure on our chefs who simply can’t keep stopping to show trainees how to do things.” Organisations representing both the Bangladeshi and Chinese communities have joined forces to lobby politicians to amend the Bill in order to safeguard their industry and the tens of thousands of jobs that rely on it.

Enam Ali said: “The threat to our businesses and way of life is so great that we need to fight it together.

“If the Bill passes through without amendment, there is a grave danger that in 20 years time Indian and Chinese restaurants and takeaways will have all but disappeared from the landscape.

“Curry restaurants alone need to find 20,000 new workers a year. Where do we find them if we can’t bring in people from the sub-continent?

“Who is going to run our businesses when the current owners retire, as is now happening? It would be great if our children would follow us into the industry, but they have other aspirations. Very few are choosing to come into catering. They want to be accountants, journalists, lawyers or dealers in the City.

“We need a new generation of people from Bangladesh and other countries on the Indian sub-continent to continue what we have started.”

His views were echoed by cross-bench peer Lord Chan who chairs the Chinese in Britain Forum. He said: “If the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill is passed, it could herald the death of the Chinese catering industry. When it is fully implemented, the only outlets to remain open will be expensive establishments vying for Michelin star status in our major metropolitan cities, particularly in the West End of London.”

Christine Lee, who is co-ordinating the nationwide backlash against the government’s plans among the 400,000-strong ethnic Chinese community, has already presented a petition to Baroness Ashton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Constitutional Affairs, at the House of Lords.

She said: “This Bill would devastate the Chinese catering industry in the UK and would have serious repercussions on the way of life of those Chinese already living here.

“The removal of settlement rights under the five tier points system would make the UK unattractive to workers and prospective employers. It effectively disqualifies low-skilled chefs from coming to this country to work. And even those whose qualifications may be acceptable wouldn’t be able to bring their wife or family with them or be entitled to long-term settlement. So where is the incentive for them to apply?”

Britain has more than 10,000 Chinese takeaways and 5,000 restaurants. It is estimated that more than 30,000 people a year are needed to keep the woks working.