Experts warn that the cap on skilled foreign workers from outside the European Union, which the Government will introduce in April next year, will cause major recruitment problems for parts of the UK hospitality industry. Nick Huber reports.
The Government's announcement of a planned cap on skilled migrants given permission to work in the UK has alarmed the UK hospitality industry.
The immigration minister Damian Green has told the UK restaurant industry that it needs to become less reliant on foreign workers. Experts warn that the cap on skilled foreign workers from outside the European Union, which will be introduced in April next year, will cause major recruitment problems for parts of the UK hospitality industry.
UK Indian and Oriental restaurants, already struggling with a skills shortage, will be hit hardest. Industry leaders warn that the cap will increase recruitment costs, leading to job losses and even restaurant closures.
The Government's Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is consulting, especially with businesses, on what level the cap should be set at. In the meantime, a temporary, smaller cap has been introduced to prevent a rush of applications before the permanent level is set.
The temporary cap will mean that 24,100 workers from outside Europe can enter the UK before April 2011 - a fall of 5% on last year. The immigration cap is the central measure aimed at helping the Government to reduce immigration from its current level of about 150,000 each year to tens of thousands.
The cap covers Tier One workers under the immigration points system, such as scientists and entrepreneurs, and Tier Two arrivals, such as chefs, teachers and nurses.
Oriental restaurants such as Indian, Thai and Sri Lankan rely heavily on getting work visas for chefs from outside the EU, particularly from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Neelofar Khan, CEO of Chilli Chutney restaurant in Streatham, south London - which also has two other takeaway outlets - relies on overseas chefs who are experts in Pakistan's Lahore cuisine. She says the immigration cap will cause two problems for her business.
First, concerns over the ability to recruit enough skilled Pakistani chefs means that plans to open new outlets are being scaled back until the details of the immigration cap are clearer.
Second, recruitment costs are expected to increase sharply. Khan predicts that specialist recruitment agencies that supply chefs to Oriental restaurants will hike their charges, possibly even doubling them.
Khan warns that the immigration cap is likely to result in job losses and the closure of Indian restaurants, particularly smaller businesses.
And in an effort to cut costs, Indian restaurants could start using frozen food, and reduce the amount of ethnically-authentic dishes, which require chefs with specialist skills, in favour of cheaper "fusion" food, Khan adds.
"In order to survive, many restaurants will not be able to produce the authentic cuisine that the British public is expecting. We have already introduced more fusion food at our Waterloo branch because we can't get enough chefs with specialist skills.
"If fusion foods become more common there will less subtle flavours and you may not be able to taste the herbs and spices in the food because it may be cooked in bulk," Khan explains.
"For example, the majority of Indian restaurants make their own samosas but customers may end up getting frozen samosas because it is an area where you can cut corners."
Retraining chefs and other kitchen staff in Lahore cuisine is possible but would take longer than a few years at catering college, and it costs a business additional money.
"We have to pay the bills today. We can't wait for one or two years or probably much longer to retrain chefs," explains Khan.
"On the subcontinent the kids are born into the http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/media-centre/news/immigration-limit11" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">hospitality] industry and when they are 13 or 14 and perhaps can't afford to go to school, they will become apprentices in the kitchens. They will learn from great master chefs how to cook the ethnic food. That sort of training cannot be put into a module in the UK, at least not today."
Khan urges the Government to use the immigration cap to punish disreputable employers who try to dodge immigration rules, and reward law-abiding restaurants by giving them the flexibility to recruit skilled chefs when necessary.
The shortage of skilled chefs in Indian restaurants is not new. The Bangladeshi Caterers Association UK (BCA) - which represents 12,000 Bangladeshi restaurants with a turnover of around £4bn and employs around 100,000 people - has been lobbying the Government about the issue for five years.
Bajloor Rashid, president of the BCA, says that its restaurants are forced to rely on immigrant chefs because most British-born Indians and Bangladeshis are put off working in Indian restaurants by the unsocial hours - opting instead for white collar professions such as law and medicine.
Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, says there is a risk that the limit for non-EU skilled workers entering the UK could be filled early, before next March, which will force restaurants to wait until a permanent quota is introduced before they can recruit more staff.
What alternatives are there? One more measured approach to immigration could be to introduce a limit on non-EU workers entering the UK but to prioritise recruitment for professions such as catering where there are big skills shortages, according to Couchman.
Employer groups are also concerned about the effect the immigration cap may have on the hospitality industry. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) warns that a cap on immigration from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will lead to greater skills shortages, with the impact on sectors where in-demand skills are already difficult to find locally becoming even deeper.
Suzanne Letting, chair of REC Hospitality, says: "The hospitality sector has always been affected by serious skills shortages. More often than not, we struggle to find key skilled workers for our sector, such as chefs. To fill those vacancies, an artificial cap on immigration would only make things more difficult and put the already fragile recovery of the UK hospitality sector at risk."
"With big events coming up, like the 2012 Olympics, demand for those skills will only rise. Immigration routes - as well as training and development for our young people - should be open for the skills vital to secure a strong, viable hospitality industry."
There are signs that the Government can accommodate the recruitment needs of some industry sectors. Its Migration Advisory Committee has already accepted that chefs for Oriental restaurants are in an occupation where there is a recognised skills shortage.
In response to the hospitality industry's concerns about the immigration cap, Damian Green, immigration minister, tells Caterer: "The UK has built up a reputation for great restaurants in recent years and top foreign chefs have played a part in building that reputation - this is not something we want to stifle.
"The reality is that the catering sector, like all others, is going to have to reduce its reliance on migrant workers as this has done nothing to help the millions of unemployed and low-skilled British citizens.
"Alongside our limits will be action to get people back to work and provide business with the skills they need from the British workforce - reducing the need for migrants at the same time as we reduce their number."
Training and Apprenticeships
New training schemes are being introduced in an effort to reduce disruption caused by new immigration rules.
August saw the introduction of a new work-based professional chef qualification covering Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Thai cuisines, including units on dim sum, noodles, spices and herbs, and using a tandoor.
People 1st, the sector skills council for hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism in the UK, which developed the new qualification, hopes that it will help Asian and Oriental restaurants become less reliant on foreign workers and train more chefs within the UK. It plans to extend the chef qualification to other ethnic cuisines to meet employer needs and provide greater choice for students.
People 1st has also launched new apprenticeship schemes for Thai, Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The immigration cap may cause recruitment headaches for the hospitality industry, but the changes to immigration rules could have an upside for UK restaurants. Restaurant owners can use the cap as a catalyst to update their recruitment and training policies. A move towards using more British-born chefs could finally tackle the industry's skills shortage and boost the UK economy.
IMMIGRATION RULES EXPLAINED
The immigration rules follow a points-based system that consists of five tiers. Specialist chefs are classed under Tier 2.
Skilled chefs and cooks who are paid at least £8.45 per hour after deductions for meals and accommodation, and have three years or more relevant experience are classed under the "shortage occupation list".
Tier 2 migrants are those that come to the UK to take up a skilled job offer to fill a gap in the UK workforce. Tier 2 workers need a sponsor and valid certificate of sponsorship. Their application to enter the UK is awarded points based on qualifications, future expected earnings, sponsorship, English language skills and available maintenance (funds).
Workers whose Tier 2 application is accepted can live and work in the UK for a maximum of three years plus one month, or the time given on their certificate of sponsorship plus one month - whichever is shorter.
There are two consultations about immigration. The Government is consulting on how the mechanics of an immigration cap would work. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent body which advises the Government on immigration, is consulting on what level the annual immigration cap should be set. The cap can be adjusted in future years, for economic or social reasons.
[British Hospitality Association](http://www.bha.org.uk/index.cfm)
TOP SKILLS SHORTAGES IN UK HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY
The annual survey looked at skills "in need of improvement" in various roles in hospitality.
Skills gap issues for owner managers General IT skills (22%)
Maximising the potential for environmental cost savings (15%)
Complying with legislation (14%)
Training and developing staff (14%)
Customer handling skills/customer service 12%
Skills gap issues for chefs who prepare their food from scratch The right attitude (17%)
Oral communication (17%)
Team working (15%)
Product knowledge (14%)
English language (13%)
Source: People 1st
FIVE WAYS TO DEAL WITH THE NEW RULES
1. Think about how you can you retain your current staff. What motivates them? What is their career progression? What broader opportunities can you offer? Often a small investment to help retain employees is much lower than the cost of having to recruit new ones
2. Think about succession planning - it is often because staff suddenly leave that employers are forced to recruit quickly
3. It is difficult to plan ahead in this economic climate, but employers need to be thinking about recruitment much earlier as it will probably take much longer to recruit chefs
4. Think about the job role - can it be redesigned? With a different split of responsibilities, can someone be brought in with less experience and be trained on the job?
5. Establish closer links with your local college. The new qualifications for Asian and Oriental cuisine that came out in August provide specific units to help train chefs in this area
Source: People 1st
MIGRANT WORKERS BY INDUSTRY SECTOR
People 1st's State of the Nation 2010 report found that around one in five workers in the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism sector were born overseas. Restaurants employ a particularly high proportion of migrant workers; some 35% of UK restaurant workers were born overseas, rising to 84% in London.
Restaurant and catering managers
Percentage and number of staff born overseas: 33% - 49,000
Top five countries supplying migrant workers: Bangladesh, India, Turkey, Poland, Pakistan
Percentage and number of staff born overseas: 31% - 78,800
Top five countries supplying migrant workers: Bangladesh, Poland, Turkey, Pakistan, Portugal
Kitchen and catering assistants
Percentage and number of staff born overseas: 20% - 77,800
Top five countries supplying migrant workers: Poland, Bangladesh, Germany, India, Pakistan
Percentage and number of staff born overseas: 24% - 54,400
Top five countries supplying migrant workers: Bangladesh, Poland, Italy, Lithuania, India
Percentage and number of staff born overseas: 7% - 14,000
Top five countries supplying migrant workers: Poland, United States, Germany, Australia, Lithuania