A restaurateur and MBE from Epsom has criticised the government’s clampdown on migrant workers saying businesses will suffer.
Damian Green, Minister of State for Immigration, announced new rules this week which could mean that in future migrant workers will have to prove how they can benefit the UK and must be able to command a salary of at least £31,000.
But Enam Ali, owner of Le Raj in Fir Tree Road, Epsom, has said tougher immigration laws coupled with a continued lack of chefs skilled in Indian cooking and of people wishing to train in the UK will mean the £3 billion UK curry industry will suffer.
Mr Ali, who has three qualified chefs from Bangladesh working in his restaurant on a typical salary of £18,000 to £23,000, has said that raising the bar to £31,000 will make it even harder for restaurants to cope.
He said: “A new salary scale will not benefit the restaurateurs or the diners. Restaurants will have no alternative but to pass the cost to the diners and this will directly effect on their takings. Who will accept paying £20 for a chicken tikka masala? I do support the governments concern about immigration, but the laws need to be more flexible.”
While Mr Ali supports a policy which will only allow the ‘brightest and best’ into the UK he believes immigration laws need to be flexible and in the interests of restaurateurs.
With one in four Indian chef vacancies currently unfilled in the UK, Mr Ali has taken steps to support homegrown talent so that the booming curry industry will continue to thrive for future generations.
At this year’s British Curry Awards, founded by Mr Ali, 100 hospitality students were invited to serve curry to his guests giving them an insight into the industry in the hope of sparking their interest.
Mr Ali said: “We allowed them to come and see how a big operation works in the kitchen and all of those who have seen the operation themselves are amazed. Out of these hundreds of students I guarantee some will take it on as a profession.”
And while Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, may be planning a ‘curry college’ to address the skills shortage, Mr Ali is looking to take on up to three apprentices from existing colleges to learn Indian cooking from his top chefs.
He said: “They want to build a curry college, but where is the funding coming from? The best thing is to take students from existing colleges. My job is to make sure that I’m creating more skill in the curry industry.
"They will come and learn here for three days and be at college for the rest of the week. It’s a long term process but we have to be flexible in this area.”