updated 2/13/2008 3:30:41 PM ET 2008-02-13T20:30:41

Forget fish and chips — curry is Britain's national dish.

But restaurant owners and immigrants' advocates say government policies restricting the flow of workers from Bangladesh are causing a staffing crisis at Britain's thousands of curry houses.

A majority of the "Indian" restaurants found in every British town are Bangladeshi-owned, and many of the kitchen workers have traditionally been recruited from Bangladesh.

Immigration rules introduced since 2005 have made it hard for unskilled workers from outside the European Union to work in Britain.

The Bangladesh Caterers' Association, which represents 12,000 curry house owners, says there are vacancies for 27,500 workers in Bangladeshi-owned restaurants, out of a total work force of some 90,000.

"That's a pretty hefty chunk," said Keith Best, head of the Immigration Advisory Service, a charity lobbying the government to change its rules. "This is an industry that contributes 3.5 billion pounds ($7 billion) a year to the British economy."

Best said the government seemed to think vacancies would be filled by Eastern Europeans, who have come to Britain by the hundreds of thousands since Poland, the Czech Republic and other ex-communist countries joined the EU.

However, he said these workers had "no cultural sensitivity toward or understanding of the curry industry."

"It is a sad comment on government policy that it favors Eastern Europeans over citizens of Commonwealth countries such as Bangladesh whose preceding generations have contributed so much to the British economy and continue to do so," Best said.

The Border and Immigration Agency said the points-based immigration system was designed to ensure "that those with the right skills to benefit Britain can come here to contribute."

The agency said it has set up a committee to advise on skills shortages in specific areas, including "the ethnic cuisine sector."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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