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UK Curry Restaurants in Crisis as Immigration Rules Keep Out Chefs

05 May 2017 #Immigration

The BBC reported last week that an increasing number of Indian restaurants in Scotland were closing due to strict immigration rules which are preventing restaurants from recruiting top chefs from India. The curry industry in the UK which is worth £5bn to the British economy and annually employs 200,000 people, has been in crisis since the government tightened its Tier 2 visa category which resulted in a decline in the number of visas granted to chefs from outside the EEA. Many in the industry have argued that the government’s ‘racist’ immigration policy is preventing their businesses from expanding.

The government’s intentions to train British chefs instead was ridiculed after its £1.75m “curry college” scheme only attracted 16 people out of 70 places. With growth in online apps such as Hungry House and Just Eat, Hans Ram, Chief Executive of the catering recruitment agency ‘Goldstar Chefs’ believes the government’s approach to the Indian restaurant sector is just “wrong”.

Skilled Chefs under the Tier 2 General visa category

In the majority of cases, migrants sponsored under the Tier 2 General category can only work in a skilled occupation at or above Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) level 6 or above. Chefs fall under SOC code 5434, which is an occupation skilled to RQF level 4. However, due to the shortage of skilled chefs in the UK, there is an exception which allows restaurants to sponsor chefs from outside the EEA – but only if:

  • The pay is at least £30,000 per year (more than the average salary for curry chefs);
  • The candidate has at least 5 or more years’ relevant experience in a role of at least equivalent status to the one they are entering;
  • The job is not in either a fast food outlet, a standard fare outlet or an establishment which provides a takeaway service;
  • The job is in one of the following roles:
    • Executive chef (limited to one per establishment)
    • Head chef (limited to one per establishment)
    • Sous chef (limited to one for every four kitchen staff)
    • Specialist chef (limited to one per speciality per establishment)

In addition to this, employers will need to bear in mind that after working for 5 years in the UK, the chef will be applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) and to the meet the eligibility criteria at that time, they will need to be earning at least over £35,000 (this threshold is expected to increase again next year).

Immigration rules for chefs – ‘Total Insanity’

Ajmal Mushtaq, award winning owner of Mushtaqs in Hamilton, believes that the harsh rules are ‘total insanity’ and gives the example of holding two portions of a curry, one on a plate and one in a take-away carton – although the same dish, a restaurant serving from a carton wouldn’t be able to sponsor a chef from abroad.

Ajmal Mushtaq is not the only critic of the Tier 2 rules; Lord Bilimoria, the chairman of Cobra Beer and a member of Parliament’s curry committee which advises on government policy, is of the opinion, that many restaurants are closing and many more are struggling to survive due to tough immigration rules.

Speaking to the Financial Times last year, he said:

“The only reason that curry has become so popular is thanks to pioneering entrepreneurs who moved to every high street and opened restaurants as complete strangers. That has not been appreciated.”

What next for the curry industry?

Curry restaurant owners as an industry, backed the Leave campaign after assurances that Brexit would lead to more visas for South Asian chefs.

Prior to the EU referendum, Priti Patel, International Development Secretary and a Leave campaigner launched a ‘Save the British Curry’ drive as part of her campaign to convince voters to back Britain’s exit from the EU and believed that a Brexit vote would allow the government to relax non-EU rules and “save” British curry houses. 

However, one of Theresa May’s first announcements was to rule out an Australian “points-style” immigration system which would allow the curry industry to recruit more staff from South Asia. In addition, the government continues to move forward with its pledge to bring down the net migration target.

Britain’s curry crisis continues in the same way the government continues to hold its ground on training Brits – forgetting their previous scheme to do the same didn’t amount to much. 

Clarkslegal, specialist Immigration lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Immigration matter please contact Clarkslegal's immigration team by email at by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.
This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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