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RECENTLY, as you can read in this issue of the magazine, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has defended its policies and its tactics. Like most other restaurant owners I have no problem with

the fact that there needs to be action against illegal immigrants in this country and the UKBA has a key role to play. However I regularly receive information from restaurants complaining about the timing of UKBA raids - often in the evenings when restaurants are full and alarming diners enjoying a night out. These appear designed to cause maximum damage to the business, irrespective of whether the restaurant is innocent or guilty of employing illegal workers. I am sure they know that to run a restaurant you need to have staff working from morning through to the early hours, so they are not really more likely to ‘catch’ illegals at 8pm than at say 2pm. So why do they do it? Sometimes spice restaurants feel they are being unfairly

targeted, and the raids, allegedly intelligence led, often seem to be ‘fishing expeditions’. Sometimes it seems that they view our industry as ‘the opposition’ which they have to take on. Rather than the current confrontational approach we urge UKBA to work with us. The majority of spice restaurant owners want to do the right thing, and operate within the law, and UKBA will have more success if they change their approach. I hope that they will come to us and say ‘how can we work together to address this issue?’ It is a pity that they have not done so. There is of course another side to the immigration debate,

which does not get as much coverage as it should. Hopefully by engaging with the media we can change that. Recently the BBC journalist Nick Robinson popped into my restaurant as part of his research for a new documentary. We discussed the issue of immigration and I was able to tell him about the staffing crisis in Britain’s curry industry causes by immigration restrictions. He asked me why do we need to bring in people from abroad when many people here are unemployed. I answered quite clearly - because those people don’t have the skills spice restaurants need. The UKBA is also proving to be an obstacle to getting even

those chefs to which we are entitled. A restaurant must have a sponsor licence to bring a qualified chef from abroad, but still it is not 100% certain that the selected applicant will get 3

clearance from the UKBA office. The tight immigration rules in place are not helping the

curry industry to grow or, in some cases, even to survive. The requirement for English language is the ‘icing on the cake’ as the majority of chefs from South Asia speak the language of food and not English. Because of this, many are not eligible to enter the UK even under a certificate of sponsorship. Something has to change and we have to campaign more

proactively to get the politicians to listen. Recently restaurants in Cheltenham united to highlight the crisis that immigration rules are causing. If more do the same across the country maybe they will start to hear us. After all they will want our votes in 2015! On a more positive note there is a lot of evidence that the

economy is improving. Hopefully that will benefit our industry as we prepare for the busy Christmas and New Year seasons. The Prime Minister has rejected our call for a reduced VAT rate to kick-start our sector again; but hopefully we can change his mind. It has worked in other countries, so why not here? Now would be a perfect time to help us capitalise on the feel good factor that seems to be returning. As I write this I am busy working on the 9th British Curry

Awards 2013, which will take place on Monday 25th Nov 2013 at The Battersea Evolution. The intense desire of many restaurants to win an award is evident as I go around the country and this year it looks like we will have more nominations that ever. Competition is fierce. It promises to be a spectacular evening, and I look forward to seeing many of you there. n

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