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Top restaurant owners call out govt over immigration plans

Sid and Chand Sharawat of Cassia.
The winners of Auckland’s top restaurant award have criticised the government's plans to change immigration rules.

The government has proposed to lift the salary threshold for people applying for a work visa under the skilled migrant category to $50,000 a year - which could have a major effect on the hospitality industry.

On Monday night, Cassia was named Supreme Winner in the Metro Peugeot Restaurant of the Year Awards for the second year running.

The modern Indian bistro is owned by chef Sid Sahrawat and his wife Chand. The couple also own fine-dining restaurant Sidart.

After accepting the award at the ceremony at MOTAT, Chand Saharawat used the opportunity to highlight the difficulties her restaurant would face if the rules on migrant workers changed.

"You love the naan bread, right? The man who's cooking this bread won't be around if immigration [rules change]... I'd rather hire a Kiwi, but you know what, I can't find them."

She called on Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, who was on stage at the awards, to take the message back to the Government that restaurants like theirs needed people with specific skills.

Her husband earlier told RNZ that out of the 40 staff he employed, just four were from New Zealand.

Mr Sahrawat said the pool of local talent was already low as highly trained New Zealand chefs and other hospitality workers were opting to work overseas.

"We just can't find enough people for front of house, or kitchen. It's a constant battle to get people who are driven and passionate about hospitality," he told RNZ's Checkpoint programme.

The government should be making it easier for business owners to hire and keep migrants on staff, Mr Sahrawat said.

Under the proposed changes low-skilled migrants would be made to leave the country after three years and then wait at least a year before they could re-apply.

"It's already hard enough for us to try and renew someone's visa ... and to make it even harder, [the changes are] going to be challenging for any restaurant or cafe owner in the country."

Cassia needed to hire chefs with particular skills and expertise because of the type of cuisine they served.

"It's a very skilled job, especially on the clay ovens. It's a bit like a sushi chef who trains for years and years before he gets really good at what he does. It's the same thing, we need people like that to be coming from India."

The Restaurant Association has raised the hospitality industry's concerns with Immigration New Zealand.

Public consultation on the government's immigration changes closes next month and Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse intended to have them in place later this year.

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