Ever since officers of what was at the time the British Empire brought home the spices of South Asia, Britons have had a taste for curry. But on its 200th birthday, the future of the industry is now under threat.
A chef in the Deyna restaurant in London stands back as he cooks a hot Indian dish
In 2001, UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook proclaimed Chicken Tikka Masala, a lightly-spiced, creamy, tomato based stew a "true British national dish". The South Asian curry has earned a lot of fans in Britain. Annually, curry sales in Britain are estimated at around 3.5 billion pounds. But new government immigration rules introduced last week under the Conservative-Liberal coalition could spell the end of the local curry house.
Chicken Tikka Masala is very popular in Britain
The new immigration rule is a five-tier immigration system. It is similar to the Australian system, where the visa applicants must have certain number of points to enter the country. The points are ascertained by the applicants' qualifications, their earning potential and their English speaking skills. Under this new system it would be difficult for unskilled foreign workers to get a visa.
Unemployment for thousands
It would now be very hard to get foreign staff for these restaurants, as Bajloor Rashid, President of the Bangladesh Caterers Association explains. "At the moment we are not running at full capacity," he says. "For the last five years we have had an acute shortage of 30,000 skilled workers in our curry industry. We have been lobbying the government for so long so that we can get more and more skilled staff from South Asia. And now the government is putting a cap on it. So it will seriously damage our industry and there will be lot of job losses as well."
The curry industry relies on foreign cooks, mostly from Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Caterers association employs 100,000 people and has about 12,000 Bangladeshi restaurants in Britain. Rashid says cooking curry is a special art and one cannot simply employ local staff in curry houses. "There is a cultural barrier," he says. "When they work with Bengali or Hindi speaking people there is a language problem. They cannot take the curry smell as much as we can. I mean we love curry and the smell of curry, but they think the smell of curry makes their clothes stink."
Typical spices used for curry
Protest against the move
For years Rashid and his organization have been arguing their case with the government. "We are going to see the ministers soon to put our representation there. They don't know what the nation's need is. How can they put a limitation? We are going to lobby the government as much as we can and make sure that the government does not go for that rule."
Prof. Christian Dustmann, head of the Center for Research and Analysis of Migration in London, explains the motive behind the cap: "The UK had experienced a period of very high immigration in the years between 2003 and 2008. And the period of high immigration was at the same time a period of unprecedented economic growth. Over that period the UK grew by about 3 percent. The UK has since then been through recession. However when the UK comes out of recession then the existence of a cap may prove detrimental to expanding the industries and the UK economy."
With the temporary immigration rule due to be introduced this week, Immigration Minister Damian Green is still consulting on a permanent cap due to be implemented next April.
Author: Jaisu Bhullar
Editor: Grahame Lucas