London: The 1 billion pound Indian food industry in UK is showing signs of decline as most young ethnic Asians are not interested in working in kitchens and new immigration rules make hiring chefs from the Indian sub-continent difficult.
There is not a single British town or village which does not have an Indian restaurant, but staff shortage has led to several of them closing down. The chicken tikka masala, adjudged Britain’s national dish, may soon be out of reach for many Britons.
Eman Ali, a restaurateur and publisher of specialist trade journal Spice Business says: “I have children of my own and I know how difficult it is to persuade them that there’s a good future for them in the restaurant business. They have so many more options open to them.
“It’s important that we do something to reverse the trend, otherwise we’re not going to have the people to take this industry to its next level. Already there are signs that the explosive growth of the last 20 years has petered out. Now we have to avoid going backwards.”
Restaurants in places with large minorities of Asian origin such as Bradford, Leicester, Birmingham and Manchester have been hit by staff shortage.
New immigration rules make it difficult to hire chefs from the Indian sub-continent. The Immigration Advisory Service recently made representations to the Home Office to relax rules for chefs from the Indian sub-continent.
Children of first generation restaurant owners prefer to take up professions other than those of their parents.
In 2005, the government ended a short-term visa scheme for people working in Indian restaurants in the wake of an illegal immigration scam involving Bangladeshis.
There are suggestions that Indian restaurants here should recruit from within the Asian community or from the large number of east Europeans who migrated to Britain following their accession to the European Union and who do not need work permits.
But Indian restaurant owners believe that cooking Indian dishes is a cultural thing, which cannot be carried out by people of east European origin.
Workers groups from Poland, however, claim that with proper training, Polish chefs could easily do the job in Indian restaurants.
Jaffer Kapasi, director of the Leicester Asian Business Association, said: “I have heard a lot about this problem from association members. There has even been talk of setting up an agency to train new chefs, but people born in Britain are not interested. They don’t think the earnings are enough.”