Singh’s comments follow reports that 10 to 15 curry houses could be closing each week by February, highlighting the difficulties that Indian chefs face in obtaining a visa to work in the UK unless they qualify as highly-skilled.
The laws put a strain on the industry with highly-skilled workers from outside of the EU required to earn at least £29,570, while curry chefs earn closer to £25k.
Singh, whose restaurant The Cinnamon Club won the award for Best Central London Restaurant at the British Curry Awards on Monday, told BigHospitality that he expects the industry to recover with the help of extra training.
“I believe the skills shortage with chefs is industry-wide, not just limited to Asian chefs. The industry as a whole is not particularly good at training, they offer low wages and it’s tricky to get the work/life balance.The recent immigration issues in India do mean that Asian restaurants have felt the pinch more than everybody else recently, however I think it’s just going through a churn and will recover,” he said.
“We need to work on training and apprenticeship programmes to get people from all backgrounds interested in Asian cuisine, initiatives like Mastara Chef. We need to arrange reward schemes and better training – all of this will help to overcome these issues. There is no reason why the Asian restaurant sector shouldn’t come out of this stronger – the customer appetite is still very much there.”
A short-term fix
Enam Ali MBE, founder of the British Curry Awards, used the event as a platform to lobby the government to change the immigration laws to help the struggling industry.
“The UK curry industry continues to contribute a phenomenal amount to the UK economy despite the challenges it still faces due to staffing issues derived from immigration policy,” he said.
“We urge the Government to help our industry and we strongly recommend that the immigration laws covering bringing in chefs from abroad be made, even on a temporary basis, more adequately flexible. One suggestion would be short-term visas, similar to Germany, the US and the Middle East, where they have to leave the country after their term. There would be no burden at all on the welfare system or the taxpayers.”
Other winners on the night included Viceroy, Pushkar and Spinning Wheel.
British Curry Award winners
- Special Recognition award - Reza Mahammad
- Best Casual Dining - Dabbawal Jesmond, Newcastle
- Best Delivery Restaurant in association with Kukd.com - The Chilli Pickle, Brighton
- Best Newcomer of the Year - Calcutta Club, Nottingham
- Best in Scotland - Karma Restaurant, Whitburn
- Best in North East - Aagrah, Leeds
- Best in North West - Viceroy, Carlisle
- Best in Midlands - Pushkar Restaurant, Birmingham
- Best in Wales - Sheesh Mahal Restaurant, Llanelli
- Best in South East - Shampan at the Spinning Wheel, Westerham, Kent
- Best in South West - Spice Lodge Restaurant, Cheltenham
- Best in London Central and City - The Cinnamon Club
- Best in London Suburbs - Green Spice Restaurant, Dartford