RESTAURATEURS across the Capital have demanded a summit with UK border officials over the “heavy handed” tactics used in immigration raids.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill will chair a meeting between the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and the Edinburgh and Lothian Racial Equality Council (Elrec) to iron out concerns over surprise raids and the difficulties business owners face in staying on the right side of immigration law.
City restaurateurs claim they are increasingly “made to feel like criminals” with a presumption of guilt before the raid starts.
One successful businessman who runs two popular Indian restaurants in the city and who has asked to not be named for fear of being “targeted” by border officials, said: “My businesses have been raided twice in the last three years and on both occasions my employees’ documents were found to all be legal and above board.
“However, on both occasions over 50 UKBA officers burst through the door at 7.30pm on a Saturday night and turfed my customers out.
“Big showdowns such as this can prove very detrimental to a business. Of those customers asked to leave, I doubt if one of them ever returned.”
While supporting the need to punish offenders, restaurant owners say the current systems for checking employees’ eligibility for work can be too complicated and time-consuming and that it is difficult for them to identify forged paperwork.
Asaddar Ali, chair of the Bangladeshi Catering Association of Scotland, said: “A lot of our members have had problems with the UKBA. My own premises were once raided and the officials couldn’t decide whether a passport belonging to my waiter was genuine, they had to contact the Home Office to find out. I ask you, if the UKBA have problems in spotting a genuine passport then what hope do restaurateurs have?”
Attending Thursday’s meeting on behalf of Elrec is chairman and restaurant owner, Foysol Choudhury.
He said: “I hope that the meeting will prove successful in building a bridge between the business community and the UKBA.
“We understand that such checks must be carried out but can’t see why they must be so over the top.”
Mr MacAskill said: “The Scottish Government has a direct interest in the UK Government’s handling of the immigration system, as it affects our economy and the people who live here.”
The most recent figures for the UKBA show that 356 raids were carried out in Scotland and Northern Ireland during 2010-11 and, from these, 365 people were arrested.
A fine of £10,000 can be imposed on businesses for every illegal immigrant found on the premises.
A UKBA spokesperson said: “We make no apology for enforcing our immigration laws.
“Businesses which employ illegal workers undermine law-abiding firms. Those businesses that do not want enforcement visits should not employ illegal workers. Those who do will be fined.”