Curry houses across the UK could close unless owners are allowed to recruit more staff from the sub-continent, according to a food industry body.
Thousands of job vacancies in curry houses remain unfilled because operators cannot find people in the UK willing or able to work in the industry, the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs said.
A government scheme that was introduced to help businesses bring in workers from abroad on short-term contracts has failed to deliver, the guild said.
The sector-based scheme was brought in 20 months ago to provide a lifeline for hundreds of Bangladeshi-owned restaurants. But obstacles put in the way of visa applicants in Dhaka have caused it to stall.
“The Government does not seem to recognise the seriousness of our situation,” said Enam Ali, chairman of the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs. “There are around 9,500 Indian restaurants and takeaways in the UK employing 72,000 people and turning over about £3.2bn annually.
“But we simply cannot find the labour and we need to sustain the growth in this country. The only place we can recruit the large number of workers needed to keep the industry operating at its present level and beyond is Bangladesh,” Ali said.
Initially, the sector-based scheme worked efficiently and fairly and several hundred Bangladeshis, as well as other foreign nationals, were given 12-month visas to come to specific jobs in this country, Ali said.
But most of them will have to return to their own countries over the next three months when their visas expire.
Restaurant owners want to see the rules changed to allow workers coming to the UK to remain for three years rather than 12 months.
The Home Office said that its Work Permits UK team regularly consult with the food industry and that foreign workers can re-apply to work in the UK once their permits have run out, as long as they leave the country for two months between contracts.