Chinatown shut down as locals complain that immigration raids are destroying a culinary landmark

24 July 2018 by
Chinatown shut down as locals complain that immigration raids are destroying a culinary landmark

Businesses in London's Chinatown have staged a mass walkout to protest immigration raids, which they claim are crushing the innovation of an area which Ken Hom once said served "the best Chinese food outside of Asia".

After marching from the West End tourist hub roughly 200 people protested outside the Home Office with placards and whistles, calling for immigration enforcement officers to stop targeting the area.

Business leaders have complained that officials are unfairly targeting restaurants during peak hours and expressed concerns that tough immigration rules, which require migrants to earn £30,000 a year, block chefs from entering the industry.

Chief executive of the Chinese Information and Advice Centre Joseph Wu, who spoke at the protest, said the street had experienced high numbers of immigration raids in recent months.

He told The Caterer: "It makes it really difficult for us to understand whether this is targeted or if this is truly intelligence led, especially during these raids, when the behaviour of the officers is often aggressive.

"During these raids the impact to the restaurant tends to be exaggerated. They come at the peak hour so it creates the maximum damage to the business -­­ or at least that's how businesses are feeling.

"I think the home office have a role to address that, so the community can be relieved of that worry or that concern."

There is also concern among community leaders the raids, along with tough immigration laws, could cause damage to the innovation in Chinese cuisine which has sprung up on the street.

Wu believes targeted raids on the area could pour cold water on Ken Hom's 2015 claim that Chinatown offers "the best Chinese food outside of Asia".

Wu added: "We're leading in the world, and how did we manage to do that? Because there was a very short relaxation of immigration policy fifteen years ago, and as soon as they tightened that the innovation stopped.

"Now we have big investors coming from China who want to bring in new innovations from China - a new type of hotpot, a new type of roast chicken cuisine - but it's not possible.

"They can probably afford the high rent, they can probably survive the high rates, they can probably even deal with the rigid planning permission, but they cannot get through the visa process because the chef needs to pass the English qualification requirement and there is a minimum wage of £30,000.

"I know there are chefs in the UK who receive that level but that is not the industry standard.

"Most Chinese restaurants are nano - not micro, not small - nano businesses run by the family. So when they cannot find chefs they cannot survive - they have to close down."

The protest followed a raid of the Joy Luck restaurant on 5 July, several days after community leaders reportedly met with local officials to find a way to work together.

Protestors claim the operation was an "overly aggressive", "fishing" exhibition during which an elderly disabled woman was "manhandled" and "nearly run over" as she attempted to object by lying in the road.

The Home Office has said the raid, which resulted in the arrest of five people including the target, was intelligence led.

By Vincent Wood

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