UK Curry Crisis Heats Up

The UK is in the midst of a curry crisis, with new immigration laws making it harder for chefs from non-EU countries to live and work in the UK, therefore threatening the £3 billion industry.

Britain’s 10,000 curry houses employ about 80,000 people and serve around 2.5 million customers a week. Previously, immigration laws would allow restaurants to bring trained chefs from sub-continent, as it’s difficult to find skilled curry chefs from within the country. However tighter laws now prevent this. In addition, many second- and third- generation immigrants living in the UK are increasingly unwilling to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

The new rules for Tier 2 skilled migrants state that chefs from outside the EU need to be making a minimum of £30,000 annually, an amount restaurant owners just can’t afford to pay. Also, chefs must have at least five years experience in a similar job and graduate-level qualifications.

Skilled Indian chefs in short supply

This not only affects migrants wanting to come to the UK, it also affects the ones who are already here, and are looking to apply for permanent residence. If their salaries fall below the new amount,  they will be sent home.

The government has been accused of having ‘no cultural sensitivity towards or understanding of the curry industry,’ as it’s assumed the vacancies can be filled by Eastern Europeans and chefs in the UK.

Spice Business Magazine Editor Enam Ali told the Metro UK, “training chefs the tricks of the trade just won’t be the same”.

“Where once we were able to turn to the sub-continent to find talented chefs brought up with the spices and cooking methods that make a great curry, we now have to try to fill all the vacancies from within the EU countries.”

“We operate in a very competitive industry, and our customers expect consistent quality.”

Some institutes such as Bradford College have already started to take control of the situation, teaching students the complex skills of Indian cooking. So far around 50 young people are delving into ‘desi dishes,’ with plans to expand the course to 100 students by the end of the year.

The College is also encouraging local restaurants to sponsor students and dedicate space for them to learn the style of their cooking in their kitchen.

But Keith Vaz, a Labour MP who has been very vocal about immigration issues has been reported as saying,

“It’s an ancient and traditional cuisine and finding skilled chefs from outside the Indian sub-continent is very difficult. Even if chefs from India start training locals in the UK, it would take some time. Till then Indian chefs should be allowed into Britain for the sake of the curry industry.”

The new laws are also making it harder for migrants to bring family members to the UK. It’s now impossible for anyone who earns less than £18,600 a year to move a foreign spouse to Britain, or less than £22,400 if that spouse has a child. And to acquire British nationality, foreign spouses now have to wait five rather than two years to test whether a relationship is genuine, and once in Britain they must also be proficient in English and pass a Life in the UK test.

The Government doesn’t seem concerned about the repercussions this tightening will have for skilled migrants and the curry industry, with British Home Secretary Theresa May saying the change will save taxpayers £1.5 billion in 10 years and cut the number of visas issued by around a third to 18,500 a year.

Annika Braddon