One of the country’s most respected Indian restaurant groups has scrapped its UK expansion plans and shifted its focus to overseas because current immigration legislation prevents it from employing skilled Indian chefs, writes Joe Lutrario. Masala World – operator of the seven-strong Masala Zone chain and three fine-dining one-offs, all in London – says the coalition Government’s scrapping of the points-based system has made it impossible to employ skilled cooks at the crucial circa £24,000 chef de partie level. Introduced early last year, the rules have effectively closed the door on all but the most senior chefs hoping to join the UK restaurant industry. “The legislation makes it impossible for us to employ skilled people to actually cook the food,” says Namita Panjabi, who runs the business with husband Ranjit Mathrani and sister Camilla Panjabi. “Gourmet ethnic restaurants need cooks that understand the difference between mediocre and great tastes, and that generally takes significant immersion in the cuisine.” Current immigration policy is hampering the expansion of other operators too. The Hakkasan Group says it would do more in the UK if rules were less punitive, while Alan Yau, the influential restaurateur behind the Busaba Eathai chain, will shortly launch a new Thai format modified to be less reliant on experienced ethnic chefs. “We wanted to create a menu that requires fewer Thai chefs,” says Yau, who will open Naamyaa in Islington next month. “The legislation has made it very difficult to open more Busabas and has squeezed the quality of authentic offers across the sector.” The Asian casual-dining sector has been a significant growth area in recent years, led by Wagamama and Yo! Sushi and followed by Thai Square, Tampopo and Banana Tree. All are suffering to some degree from the restrictions.