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Famous Indian restaurant can't open in Zurich after chefs denied permits

Famous Indian restaurant can't open in Zurich after chefs denied permits
Saravanaa Bhavan in Amsterdam, but will it open in Zurich? Image: Google Streetview

The first Saravanaa Bhavan, a famous Indian restaurant brand, wants to open its doors in Zurich. But the opening is delayed by an administrative glitch — no visas for the chefs.

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Anitha Sivakumar and Sarankan Ravendran, originally from Sri Lanka but longtime residents of Switzerland, are set to open the country's first sudsidiary of a famed Indian restaurant, Saravanaa Bhavan, which already has popular outlets in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Rome.

However, the May opening is being delayed by a problem faced by many other people from outside the EU / EFTA (Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein), who want to work in Switzerland: denial of entry visas for their five chefs from India.

The Zurich Office for Economic Affairs and Labour, which is responsible for handing out permits, refused visa applications for the chefs, as India is a a third country.

It explained its decision by the “absence of economic interest [for Switzerland] in hiring the chefs," and  suggesting that the priority should be given to Swiss or EU workers.

This is a usual requirement for workers from outside the EU / EFTA: that their presence in Switzerland be beneficial to the economy, and that no local workforce can be found for the job. 

However, the owners argue that hiring local staff wouldn’t work because only Indian chefs “know the secret recipes.”

The couple filed an appeal against the decision, pointing out that “our cooks have expertise that simply does not exist in Switzerland; it is a very different cuisine, based on old recipes from South India.”

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What if the Economic Office rejects the appeal?

“We don’t have a plan B,” Sivakumar said.

“We have already invested a large amount, six figures, in this matter, from the rents to the lawyer's fees for this dispute, including the transformation work,” she added.

Just the special kitchen utensils or the Tandoori oven would have cost more than 30,000 francs, as some had to be imported from England.

She also questions the distribution of permits for people from third countries.

“Why should only pharmaceutical engineers and scientists receive these visas?”

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