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A curry house near Brick Lane in east London

Visa Limits, Rice Shortages Hurting U.K.’s Indian Restaurants

May 20, 2008 10:15 AM
by Anne Szustek
New limits on British work visas and record-high rice prices are not currying favor with the country’s $3.5 billion-a-year Indian food sector.

30-Second Summary

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On May 6, Britain announced new restrictions on immigrants seeking work visas, including a requirement that would-be immigrants must have a job offer from a British company before applying for a visa.

For skilled positions, a new system requires workers to have a specified number of qualifying “points” to receive visas, depending on whether they have proper qualifications, sufficient English-language skills, and earn an annual salary of more than £24,000 (about $48,000).

In addition, “low skilled workers from outside the E.U. will be barred,” announced the British Home Office.

But if these rules are not relaxed for South Asians, the country’s lucrative Indian food industry “will die,” says Azmal Hussain, owner of London’s top-rated Balti House restaurant. “We need to get people who are already skilled here, so they can train people here.” Hussain has written several protest letters to the Home Office.

On top of the labor crunch, sky-high rice prices are cutting into London curry shops’ profit margins. Hussain told CNBC that a bag of rice that sold in Britain for £12.50 ($25) three months ago now goes for twice that amount.

Poor weather, high fuel costs and crop diseases have plagued world rice production. Two key producers, India and Vietnam, have banned rice exports. Prices for the staple grain doubled in Myanmar, also known as Burma, after Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irrawaddy Delta, known as the country’s “rice bowl.”

Headline Links: U.K. immigration rules tighten; world rice prices reach new highs

Reactions: Home Office gives British ‘first crack’ at jobs; researchers promote sustainable rice farming

Background: Global food prices soar; rice crop hit by disease and bad weather

Reference: U.K. immigration law resources, Indian cuisine

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