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Restaurant industry could be damaged by new UK immigration cap

Chefs not 'skilled' enough

There is deep concern in the restaurant industry that the impending immigration cap could stunt the UK's catering and tourism sector. The British Hospitality Association (BHA) has written to the Home Office about the potential effects of the limitations on UK restaurants, calling the move "potentially disastrous".

The BHA's main concerns lie in the new definition of a 'skilled worker'. Anyone from outside Europe applying for a work permit must fit in either Tier 1 – entrepreneurs, engineers, doctors, etc – or Tier 2, which now means those with a university degree. Although many chefs attain the equivalent of a level three NVQ, without a Bachelor's degree or higher they stand little chance of achieving the 50 points necessary to be considered for a visa. It is though that just 20,700 Tier 2 workers will be allowed into the UK from April 2011.

Industry repercussions

BHA chief executive Ufi Ibrahim commented that the cap will let through barely any "specialised Asian and Oriental chefs whose lifetime skills cannot be replicated in the EEA workforce". Concern is especially high because a lack of skilled chefs means a lack of restaurants, and therefore a lack of jobs for UK citizens. The association estimates that there are an average of 11 jobs relying on each specialised chef in Britain.

Deputy chief executive Martin Couchman commented that the UK's diverse and exciting restaurant industry is "a definite tourist attraction". A sudden drop in food standards of Japanese, Thai, Chinese and Indian restaurants could be detrimental to the tourism industry, related trades such as restaurant suppliers, and areas known for specific cuisines, such as Manchester's Curry Mile or the handful of UK Chinatowns.

Unfortunately, the talents of chefs are rarely indicated by a qualification; for example, top British chefs such as Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay would not be eligible for the new UK work permit, having never been to university.

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