Byline: Niki Chesworth
GORDON RAMSAY has enough on his plate. So he probably did not need this latest row to engulf his empire. Holli Ugalde, the victor of Hell's Kitchen USA, won a job at Ramsay's new restaurant at The Savoy Hotel -- but she is reportedly unable to take up the post because she was refused a working visa.
This will come as no surprise to the London restaurant trade -- even though the new cap on the number of skilled migrant workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) is not due come into force until April.
Among the list of "shortage occupations", for which recruit from outside the EEA should be easier, are some highly specialised roles: engineering geomorphologists, consultants in nuclear medicine, and consultant radiologists, to name a few.
But not all are so obscure and technical.
Chefs are also listed as a shortage occupation: out of 11,000 posts available annually, an estimated 7,000 are difficult to fill.
In particular, the immigration cap will affect oriental and Asian restaurants, which often look abroad for experienced and talented chefs. Unlike the US Hell's Kitchen winner, they have skills that are hard to find in Britain -- sushi chefs, for example.
"For many of the UK's Asian and oriental restaurants, recruiting chefs from outside the EEA has been the only way that they could gain access to the specialist skills they need," said Martin-Christian Kent of People 1st, the skills council for the hospitality industry.
This week the British Hospitality Association this week warned the cap on migrant workers could even force restaurants to close, because non-European specialist chefs would effectively be barred from entering Britain.
In a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, Ufi Ibrahim, the association's chief executive, said the fact that only graduate occupations would be exempted from the new rules made it unlikely that any of these essential chefs would be able to come to work in the UK.
"This is potentially disastrous for those restaurant businesses offering quality specialised ethnic dishes of Asian and oriental origin. Some may have to close, with the loss of UK residents' jobs," said Ms Ibrahim.
"In the 12 months to this June, 2,412 certificates of sponsorship were issued for chefs, essentially for specialised Asian and oriental chefs whose lifetime skills cannot be replicated in the EEA workforce. …