Immigrant jobs law hits Exmouth eatery
By Exeter Express and Echo | Thursday, January 31, 2013, 07:45
THE owner of a popular Exmouth Chinese restaurant has spoken about being forced to close and reopen as a takeaway after a change in Government legislation which requires skilled overseas chefs to be paid almost £30,000.
China Garden, in Imperial Road, has been in George Lai's family for more than 40 years.
The business, like most other authentic restaurants offering foreign cuisine, has prided itself on employing chefs from the Far East in order to provide the best and most authentic food for its customers.
But he said his business was now threatened as a result of a change in immigration employment policy which requires skilled overseas chefs be paid an minimum annual wage of £28,260.
Previously the minimum wage stipulated for skilled workers was around £18,000.
The change does not affect existing employees, but because two out of four of Mr Lai's chefs are leaving, he says he cannot afford to employ more Chinese chefs so has been forced to close.
The restaurant will be closed from Sunday, February 3, until March 5, when it will be operating as a takeaway.
Mr Lai expressed his frustration at the new system and fears more Asian restaurants will be forced to close as a result.
"Most independent Asian restaurants employ chefs native to the country in order to provide authentic food for their customers," said the 43-year-old.
"A lot of Chinese restaurants are being raided for employing chefs illegally but people need to appreciate the wider picture.
"If the Government were realistic about employment requirements then this wouldn't happen.
"It's been worth paying for Far Eastern chefs until now, in order to give our customers the best authentic cuisine we can, but it's just not viable anymore."
Mr Lai, who also owns restaurants in Tiverton, Bridgwater and Bristol, added: "This has had a major impact on us – the restaurant has been in our family for years and we won't be able to serve our customers, many of whom have been coming to us regularly for years. It's a big blow.
"This is bad news for the restaurant industry and this is going to mean a lot more restaurants closing down."
A UK Border Agency spokesman, added: "The Government expects employers to take more steps to attract, recruit and train resident workers.
"We will continue to allow the most highly skilled chefs to come to the UK but it is not sustainable for employers to rely on a continuous flow of migrant labour."