Restaurateurs offer to help chefs' immigration

03 May 2001
Restaurateurs offer to help chefs' immigration

Bangladeshi restaurateurs are pressing the Government to let them take part in immigration procedures to bring in chefs from their home country to help ease their skills shortage.

Shawkat Ahmed, secretary general of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, has already put the request to the Department for Education & Employment (DfEE), which issues the work permits that allow foreign chefs to work in Britain.

Shawkat said that lack of enthusiasm for catering work among young Bangladeshis, increased competition, and the customer demand for greater variety have all worsened the shortage.

He said: "The food critics are saying we need more regional food, and the only way to do that is to employ chefs from your own region."

British immigration law requires employers to advertise a job for a minimum of six months. If nobody suitable can be found, then the employer can start procedures to employ an overseas chef.

Bringing in a chef from abroad is both complicated and risky. To fulfil Home Office regulations the foreign chef must have specific skills and no less than three years' experience. Even after his work permit has been granted there is no guarantee that he will stay working at the restaurant that recruited him.

"The skilled chefs are holding us on a knife edge," said Shawkat.

Last year the DfEE reviewed the work permit scheme and paid particular attention to hotels and catering. Maria Fernandez, of Fernandez Vaz solicitors, said: "They've removed a lot of form-filling and extended the length of work permits from three to five years, so the Government are prepared to listen and take the views of employers into account. It's a positive thing for the future of restaurant businesses."

It takes three to four weeks to issue a work permit - Fernandez said: "I can't see it getting any faster" - although genuine aplications occasionally get lost in red tape between different Government departments.

Aziz-Ur Rahman, owner of the Aziz restaurant in Oxford, said: "I'm not sure the immigration authorities would be happy for us to interfere. Given the opportunity, every chef in the subcontinent would like to come to Europe. But if there are problems with genuine applications, there are associations which can help with appeals."

The Indian restaurant industry has an annual turnover of £2.8b in Britain and employs about 100,000 people in 10,000 restaurants.

by Ben Walker

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