Indian restaurants in a pickle over staff

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Despite its flock wallpaper, sullen waiters and unflattering lighting, it has long been embraced as the most venerable of British institutions. The curry house has acquired the same status as pubs and Yorkshire pudding, with its Friday night ritual played out by millions.

Despite its flock wallpaper, sullen waiters and unflattering lighting, it has long been embraced as the most venerable of British institutions. The curry house has acquired the same status as pubs and Yorkshire pudding, with its Friday night ritual played out by millions.

But despite its place in the nation's heart, it emerged yesterday that the future of the £2.5bn curry house industry is under threat; Indian restaurants across the country are in the grip of such a "serious" staffing crisis that the repercussions may be long term.

The crux lies in the recruitment of staff for Bangladeshi- owned restaurants, which comprise the majority of the 9,000 curry houses in the UK.

As younger generations of Bangladeshis increasingly opt to go to college over serving up spicy favourites, many owners have been forced to look for recruits in their homeland. But they claim immigration restrictions are preventing Bangladeshi workers from arriving in the UK. Since April this year, more than 90 per cent of the 2,500 Bangladeshis granted temporary, 12-month work permits in the UK have subsequently been refused visas. As a result, employers are irate at not only losing the money paid for the permits, but also at growing numbers of vacant staff positions.

"It is a really bad situation as so many restaurants are suffering at the moment," said Parvez Ahmed, a member of the Bangladesh Caterers' Association."There are no local staff and thousands of people are being blocked by the government, despite having already been given the go-ahead with work permits."

The Government introduced the sector-based scheme in May last year, granting workers from abroad permits to fill recruitment shortages in the hospitality and food-manufacturing industries. The first stage of the application involves issuing of a work permit in the UK, paid for by the prospective employer. The second stage involves issuing a visa in the employee's native country.

The scheme was initially welcomed by curry-house owners. But that changed when they found most applicants with work permits they had paid for were being refused visas.

Ahmed Koysor, who runs the Sonorgaon restaurant in the heart of "Banglatown" in Brick Lane, east London, is both angry and confused. Five of his potential employees from Bangladesh have been refused visas, despite receiving permits from the Home Office. "Restaurants are suffering around here because of the situation," said Mr Koysor. "It's very worrying."

The situation was condemned by the Immigration Advisory Service, an independent agency, as both "inefficient and incomprehensible". "No one can appreciate how two parts of the same government department can give conflicting decisions," said Keith Best, the agency's chief executive. "The Government should ensure that the grant of a work permit also constitutes entry clearance." The Foreign Office said that the refusals were primarily based on the judgement that the workers would not leave the country at the end of the 12-month permits. Another key reason for the rise in the number of refusals was the discovery of forged documents. "There has been a real surge in applicants from people who are not eligible," said a Foreign Office spokeswoman.

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