Dominic Kennedy, Times (London), Jan. 9, 2006
The neighbourhood curry house and Chinese takeaway risk being replaced by kebab shops as an unexpected consequence of Britain’s new immigration policy.
Chinese and Indian restaurant and takeaway owners are campaigning to persuade the Government to continue letting thousands of Asian people into the country to help to make the curries. But ministers have refused, telling caterers to speak English in their kitchens so that vacancies can be filled by workers from Eastern Europe.
Kebab houses are meanwhile benefiting from a boom in staff, with many asylum-seekers and new European Union members coming from traditional meat-skewering nations.
The first lobby of Parliament by representatives of Britain’s 250,000-strong Chinese community has urged politicians to make a special case to save the locally stir-fried chop suey.
Britain’s many Chinatowns emerged from the migration of young workers from Hong Kong in the 1960s. Today those workers are retiring and their children have achieved such academic and professional success that few wish to remain in catering.
A leading community member said that staff in Britain’s 10,000 Chinese takeaways and 5,000 restaurants are mainly asylum-seekers, students and illegal immigrants.
But the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, to be debated soon by the House of Lords, would impose a two-year jail term and fine on employers hiring illegal foreigners. Students and workers refused visas would lose the right to appeal.
The Government’s new immigration strategy will encourage highly prized, non-European professionals but would admit only unskilled workers to fill labour shortages. The unskilled will have no right to settle.
Lord Chan, who chairs the Chinese in Britain Forum, said: “The main concerns are clear in that 95 per cent of Chinese catering businesses actually are not going to be taken over by members of the family. The person who buys the business would need to recruit people.”
Thomas Chan, who chairs the Chinese Takeaway Association, estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 workers a year were needed. “The head chef will find it difficult to communicate with these Eastern Europeans,” he said. “If there is no mutually understood language, how are they going to give instructions? It’s not just a pinch of salt here and there. It’s the culture.”
Ashraf Uddin, the secretary-general of the Bangladesh Caterers’ Association, said that at least 20,000 workers a year were needed to work in Britain’s 10,000 Indian restaurants. He said that the Government had told them to take Eastern Europeans. “Unless they know our culture, our language, our way of working, it’s a complete mess,” he said.
Taflan Dikec, president of the National Association of Kebab Shops, said that there were already 40,000 kebab takeaways, with numbers growing fast. Refugees had provided a source of labour but Eastern Europeans were able to make more than kebabs. Mr Dikec said: “They are capable, if the Chinese and Indians gave them an opportunity. They have this myth that Chinese food can only be cooked by a Chinese person or Indian by an Indian.”
The Home Office said: “Allowing the sector to continue to rely on low-skilled labour from outside the UK or EU would be self-perpetuating if it means the sector continues to be reliant on workers with particular language skills.”