David Cameron, the UK prime minister, was guest of honour at the British Curry Awards on 26th November 2013. The event was held at the Battersea Evolution centre. 12 prizes were awarded; nine regional bests along with 'Best Newcomer and Best Takeaway' and a Special Recognition Award.
Speaking at the event, Mr Cameron admitted that the visa regime was causing problems for the sector and indicated that he was prepared to be flexible. He said 'let me promise you this – we will work through this together. We will continue to get you the skilled Asian chefs that you need and we will also work with you to train up the next generation of home-grown chefs'.
That the Prime Minister should attend the awards is a sign that curry is big business in the UK. The Big Hospitality website reports that the sector is worth £3.6bn a year and provides employment for more than 80,000 people.
Curry came to UK with Indian migrants
Britain's love affair with curry began in the mid-20th century when many immigrants came to the UK from the Indian subcontinent. Curry restaurants quickly became a feature in every town and city. They were often the only restaurants in which most lower-income people could afford to eat.
That is no longer always the case. The Benares restaurant, owned and run by Atul Kochhar, which won the award for best London curry restaurant, is in the exclusive Mayfair district has a prestigious Michelin star and offers a Bruno Menard Pauillac wine at £649 per bottle.
As the first generation of Indian chefs retired, their children, born in the UK, chose not to follow them into the industry, perhaps dissuaded by long hours and low pay, so leading to a UK shortage of curry chefs.
Immigration crackdown has caused curry chef shortageBut restaurant owners in the sector have complained in recent years that a UK immigration crackdown has prevented them from bringing trained chefs to work in the UK from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India or Sri Lanka.
In February 2012, the chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz MP, warned that changes to the Tier 2 (General) skilled worker visa were likely to make it impossible for Indian chefs to come to work in the UK.
Mr Vaz said 'Under the rules for Tier 2 skilled migrants, chefs from non-European Union countries who will be allowed to work in the UK have to earn a minimum amount of £30,000 annually. This is far too high and the restriction has badly hit Indian restaurants in the UK'.
'Four year chef visa'Mr Vaz suggested that a four year 'chef visa' might allow UK Indian restaurants to bring proper Indian chefs to the UK on a temporary basis but so far, there has been no progress with this suggestion.
Mr Cameron told the Awards audience that the industry's problems would not be solved overnight and would require 'long term commitment on all sides'.
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