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Shortage of curry chefs as immigration changes start to bite

Curry restaurants are facing an "unprecedented crisis" due to tough new immigration laws, one of Britain's leading Asian businessmen said yesterday.

Enam Ali, the founder of the British Curry Awards, warned that immigration rules were forcing Indian restaurant owners to take on unskilled workers from the UK or EU rather than bring in trained chefs from the sub-continent.

Mr Ali said that unless restaurants could get help to fill job vacancies in their kitchens, the shortage of skilled staff threatened the future of the £3.2 billion industry.

Mr Ali made his comments at a lunch in Edinburgh to mark the achievement of the city's Britannia Spice restaurant in winning a hat-trick of British Curry Awards.

The First Minister, Alex Salmond, and Edinburgh's Lord Provost, George Grubb, were principal guests.

Mr Ali, who presented a special award to restaurant owner Dr Wali Uddin, said: "We are facing an unprecedented crisis that, if not resolved, could decimate our industry. Each year, our sector has to recruit several thousand new staff to work in our kitchens.

"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.

"When our British customers go out for a curry meal, they want the full cultural experience. They want to have confidence that the people in the kitchen know what they're doing and that the people serving them are fully conversant with all the dishes on the menu.

"Most Europeans don't have a clue about the spices we use or the way we prepare dishes."

Mr Ali said that the immigration laws were causing restaurants to miss out on huge opportunities for expansion.

A spokesman for the Border and Immigration Service said changes had been made to the immigration system, but there was no reason why Indian restaurants could not train and use local workers, rather than recruiting from the subcontinent.

He said: "The Indian and Bangladeshi restaurant trade has traditionally employed workers of Indian and Bangladeshi extraction. There appears to be no reason why it should not recruit workers from other backgrounds, particularly for lower-skilled positions that do not require specialist skills.

"To date, the sector has not provided evidence to show that it cannot recruit and train workers from the resident workforce to fill lower-skilled positions."