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Curry chefs hold a summit, not far from that G20 thing

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : Curry chefs meeting with British ministers and financiers at a parallel ‘summit’ issued a message to that other summit taking place Thursday: roll back protectionist measures and allow us to hire cooks from the Indian subcontinent.

“These rich G20 countries should relax their immigration policy,” said Bangladesh Caterers Association President Bajloor Rashid Friday.

Rashid and 28 other representatives of the ethnic food industry met Tourism Minister Barbara Follett and financiers in a bid to set up a Curry College – a measure they have been forced to consider after a recent tightening of immigration rules by the British government.

According to a new Points Based System (PBS), non-Europeans who want to work in Britain must prove they have the relevant academic qualifications, pass an English language test and show high levels of previous income.

But, curry house bosses in Britain complain, chefs in the Indian subcontinent come with cooking skills, not academic qualifications.

The 12,000 curry restaurants in Britain provide direct and indirect employment to some 350,000 people and the industry has an annual turnover of 3.5 billion dollars, Rashid said.

“We need cooks from the subcontinent. We tried European workers but it didn’t work out – we need people who don’t mind washing our dishes and keeping unsocial hours,” Rashid told IANS.

His comments reflect the discussion that took place at the G20 summit of leaders of the world’s largest economies, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called upon rich countries to roll back protectionist measures in the area of services, which includes skilled migration.

“The Points Based System should be reviewed,” Rashid said, adding the British economy stood to lose more in the current recession if the ethnic food industry were allowed to decline.

“If this industry fails, what will happen to all the jobs?” he said.

The Curry College, which needs an initial investment of one million pounds to set it up, will also train chefs in other ethnic cuisines, such as Chinese, Turkish and Thai, which were represented at Thursday’s Curry Summit.

According to Enam Ali, chairman of the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs, 150 curry houses have closed this year as they struggle to fill a shortage of 30,000 cooks and chefs.