Media distorts language court case

Rashida Chapti has unwillingly found herself in the glare of hostile media coverage over the past month or so. Her fight to bring her husband and son to the UK to live with her has encountered the newly introduced barrier of the pre-entry language requirement. Their case is the test case, having been heard late last month in a Birmingham court, and Mrs Chapti has attracted all kinds of unwarranted attack.


Daily Mail columnist Amanda Platell flaunted her lack of understanding of the case and the law in an ignorant article appearing in The Mail on 30 July:

“Mrs Chapti says her husband has no intention of learning English even if he is allowed to join her. And why should he? There will be plenty of interpreters on hand – whom we pay for – to help him complete his benefit forms when he fails to get a job.

She claims her husband can’t learn English, as he lives too far away from the nearest school. Yet she’s been able to afford to fly to and from India in the past five years – on her machinist’s salary in a clothes factory – so surely she could stump up the bus fare he needs to get to the school.”

It would appear that Ms Platell doesn’t understand that any spouse moving to the UK has no recourse to public funds (for the probationary period of two years, potentially rising to five) and will therefore be filling out no benefit forms – with or without the assistance of publicly funded translators. If she had tried, perhaps she could have had a conversation with Mrs Chapti and discovered that she can indeed speak English, only a lack of confidence made her decide to speak through a translator on the Today programme on Radio 4. As for being able to afford to “fly to and from India in the past five years”, maybe it would have been more honest to point out that Mrs Chapti has flown to and from India just once in the last six years.


The Daily Mail’s reporter Andy Dolan ran a piece claiming that, according to Mrs Chapti her husband has no intention of learning English. That’s different from what she told me, as she expects him to pick up the language if he was allowed into the UK just as she has done “by watching the News everyday and listening to her nephews and nieces speak”. That’s how Mrs Chapti got by, and she lives, shops and works without a translator.

Migrants learn the language they need to survive and to live comfortably. There is no doubting that the best place to learn English is England (the clue is in the name there). The furore over English language testing and anyone’s willingness or otherwise to learn English is less about cohesion and communication, and more about racism and discrimination.

The people making most noise about the need for immigrants to speak English always appear to be the last people who would actually want to have a chat with Mr or Mrs Chapti. Amanda Platell, with her journalistic background, contacts and influence appears to have made no effort at all to have that conversation, and the resulting ignorance shines through in her article.

The real story

It would appear its time to put the record straight and tell the story of Mrs Chapti.

Rashida Chapti was born in Malawi, and moved to India when she was thirteen. Most of her family have since moved to the UK, living in Blackburn, Bolton and Leicester, all are settled with families of their own. She met Vali in 1973, and they married in 1974, having six children. The youngest son, Sohel, is the only one not married and settled with children of his own.

Six years ago she had saved enough money to come and visit them in the UK, having not seen some of them for years. When here, she realised what she was missing and, with a little peer pressure from her siblings, decided it would be a good move to reunite her family by living in the UK.

So she moved, applied for settlement which was granted and has since worked as a machinist in a clothing factory, at times doing two jobs as seasonal work became available. At no time has Mrs Chapti claimed benefits, always ensuring she has paid her own way – hardly a burden on the state as some would have you believe.

The attempt to have her husband and youngest son come and join her in Leicester has been scuppered by timing. Before the pre-entry language requirement was introduced, the move would have been pretty straight forward, but now they face a difficult battle. As things stood before, Mr Vali would have been expected to learn English within two years of coming to the UK if he wanted to be granted settlement. As yet, no convincing argument has been put by the Government or the test’s supporters how a pre-entry requirement is a better rule than the two year probationary period previously existing. 

Costly process

So far the couple have spent around £5,000 on visa application fees and other expenses on trying to get Mr Vali the correct paperwork to enable him to join his wife. That is a huge amount of money considering the paltry wages both partners currently survive on.

The Mrs Chapti I met was a million miles from the grasping and scheming character portrayed in certain newspapers. She is a humble and humorous person who is obviously driven by her desire to spend her life with her husband. She is ready to laugh at the odd inadvertent misunderstanding, and has a warm and engaging personality. How she or her family present a threat to the fibre or cohesion of British society is impossible to tell for anyone who has spent any time in her company.

We await judgment from the Chapti’s court case, we can only hope for a favourable outcome, that the judges see sense and allow this family to be reunited.

Other related posts on media cioverage of immigration include Bogus, Sham and Swamp: The Words and Numbers of Anti-Immigration and A study in distortion – how The Sun twists the figures.

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

12 responses to “Media distorts language court case

  • K Brown

    Mrs Chapti can continue to live in India with her husband where they can speak their own language which is gujerati. no need to learn another language and can live happily ever after. I am livid at subsidising the legal aid for this selfish, ungrateful aned greedy lady with my hard earned tax.

  • jcwi

    What an ignorant and ungracious comment.

    1. How can Mrs Chapti “continue to live in India” when she actually lives in Leicester?
    2. A new rule such as the English language requirement would be challenged in court almost as a matter of course – whether it was by the Chaptis or another couple – most likely funded by legal aid. It is a matter of chance that “this selfish, ungrateful aned greedy lady” is the focus of this story.

    Perhaps you should extract your head from the Daily Mail and take a fresh look at reality.

  • K Brown

    My comment was not ungracious. These are the facts. In Australia, Canada , New Zealand and USA, immigrants are required to LEARN ENGLISH. Tthe language of the UK is not gujerati. Mrs Rashida Chapati has been incredibly lucky to get a British passport because of the gross stupidity of the Conservative Government in 1963 to give out British passports to Asians in East African and Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia. tTe least she can do to say thank you is to learn some of our language.

    As for her lazy husband being too old to learn english, my father learned french at 78. There are english people of 90 learning a foreign language. All that is required is ” everyday ” english. A1 level of english is about what a 8 year old would be expected to learn. We are hardly asking for a PhD in english.

    I think your comment about ” a matter of course ” that some recently arrived immigrant should challenge the laws of the land on legal aid. If that is not ungracious and ignorant… then what is. Mrs Chapati lived happily in India for over 30 years and now that they are getting to retirement age, hope to be kept by the British taxpayer.

    When she loses this case. I hope she has to pay costs.

  • jcwi

    Have you actually been to California or many other states in southern USA? The USA has a second language – Spanish – and locals learn Spanish in many places in the USA in order to better communicate with their fellow citizens. Did you not realise that Canada also has two languages and many citizens conduct home life, education, work and social life entirely in French?

    There’s also a key difference between the UK and the countries you mention, Britain has had a colonial empire and subjects of the empire being entitled to citizenship / passports have resulted. Just as Gurkha families are rewarded for their sacrifice with citizenship.

    Mrs Chapti (please note her name, not ‘Chapati’ as you write) does speak English, the interview I had with her was in English. Is that a big enough thank you for her to day to satisfy you. She also expects her husband to pick up the language, although not through formal lessons. What you read in Daily Mail reports isn’t gospel about the Chaptis’ experience and intentions.

    Vali Chapti is anything but lazy, the prospects of learning a language differ between an educated Uk citizen, with local colleges and internet access and a farmer living in rural India, but Vali has worked hard all his life. That’s the only way of surviving as a farmer in India. Your portrayal of people who neither know or have even met as lazy is at best prejudice, or worse racist.

    That laws like this are challenged is a matter of course, not who challenges them, if you read what I last said in the comment with more care, this may become apparent.

    The standard of English required by the various visa sections around the globe is unclear. There appears to be differing interpretations of the rules laid out by the Home Office – something this blog will be investigating soon.

  • K Brown

    well, well. I can see it now..

    i wish I had a CCTV camera in your offices. sitting around in your hand knitted cardigans ( courtesy of Mum )and drinking lampsang soochong tea and feeling sorry for the world..

    These self opinionated Quangoes make me sick. such a pity that you all went from University to a well paid cushy lttle number without living in the real world. A few weeks on a building site or in a factory or a sweat shop would soon change your minds aboujt life in the UK..

    Get real for once in your boring lives. You know NOTHING about the real UK… only what you read in the Guardian and the Spectator

    • jcwi

      Thanks for your comments. We try to confine the discussion on this blog to this issue at hand. Please observe this in future if you would like to participate in discussions on this blog. Whilst we welcome all views (including contrary vews) and are happy to engage with them, these kind of statements have no place here and will not be published or engaged with in future. I shall on this occasion however deal with your comments above and in the preceding discussion.

      1. As we’ve previously explained, non- EEA spouses are already required to learn the English language at a higher level some 24 months or so after arrival in the UK. The failure rate for this group is less than 1% so it is clear that the overwhelming majority already do learn the language.

      2. People differ in their inherent propsensity to learn a a language, and have different opportunities to do so. A woman living in a village with no, or very limited access to education let alone access to english language classess in Sudan for example is clearly going to struggle to learn the language. Given the opportunities to learn the language and to use it in the UK that same woman may quite easily be able to learn the English language in the event that she was here.

      3. We think that it’s a positive thing to learn the English language and believe that the best way to do this is to learn this in the UK. We also believe that English language provision should be increased given that classess are oversubscribed. The great advantage of this is that English language levels are improved without underminging human rights principles or laws either for British citizens or migrants.

      4. You talk about gratitude for the granting of passports, and English language as an expression of this, but what about the gratitude of the UK? The empire brought us vast economic benefits. Where do you think the wealth generated by colonial subjects and the taxation they were paying went to? It came to us. It helped build our economy. Colonial settlers mostly did not learn the language of the colonies (and Brits migrating abroad these days often don’t have a pre-existing grasp of the language of those countries- simply go to France and have a chat with some expats.)

      5. JCWI staff members hail from a range of different backgrounds. We also read a range of literature, and could all earn a lot more working in the private sector.

  • K Brown

    I agree with many of your comments.

    Actually I would go further. It is unfair to expect Non EEA migrants to learn english, YET, citizens of the EEA ( and Polish migrants have been the largest number ) can come to UK without even a SINGLE word of english and yet can settle here and apply for jobs. and need no examination or certificate.

    I believe, ALL persons wishing to settle and work here should learn up to A1 english, even Poles, Czechs and Romanians. This would be more equitable. one law for ALL. but we need the agreement of the EU first.

    I have been many times to the USA and Canada and the use of french in Canada and Spanish in USA ( used most in Florida and Western USA ) are for historic reasons. The Spanish were in California BEFORE the english speaking Americans came there. It was CONQUERED… so it is not unreasonable to expect some people there to speak spanish.

    Likewise in Canda, the french were there first and in the 1760s the British conquered Canda but french has continued on as with Welsh and gaelic in the British Isles.

    I feel sorry for Mrs Chapti as she must be lonely without her husband and also it is a MAMMOTH TASK to take on the British Government who have made the English Test a major part of their immigration strategy ( the Labour Government were also going to change the law so that all non EEA migrants had to pass an english test. The coalition Government just brought it forward from july 2011 to November 2010).

    Sadly, even if Mrs Chapti won the case, I certainly expect the British Government would appeal and the case could drag on for years,.

    On the bright side, once Mr Chapti reaches his 65 Birthday he is EXEMPT from the english test and then can come without hindrance. I can’t advise Mrs Chapti on her decision but personally I would have waited 7 more years and not had the cost and stress of a legal battle.

    Absence makes the heart grow fonder.!!!!!!!!!

    Immigration is a hot topic and the current Government has made a lot of promises to contain the number of migrants entering UK.. so i expect a lot more tougher laws to come and more Mrs Chaptis arguing the toss. The next move in 2012 will be the tightening up of student visas to reduce overseas student numbers ( and post graduate workers ) from 240,000 to 50,000 by 2015.

    It will also get harder to bring spouses here and have family reunions. All visas will be harder to get.

    Eventually i can see the repeal of the International Asylum Act of 1951 to exclude asylum seekers altogether.. but that will be later.

  • Lionel Barnes

    I am a British citizen and my wife is Russian. We have been kept apart since our marriage by this discriminatory rule. Discrimination on the grounds is unlawful as far as I believe. I have written to David Cameron, Theresa May and UKBA regarding our situation.
    My wife took a test but it was not at an approved centre so her visa was denied, she then took further lessons in order to take the IELTS test however the govt sets a double standard and insist my wife achieves level B1 because she took the more difficult IELTS test. She falls short of B1 in speaking by 1 point, her overall band score is 4 ( compared to CEFR this equates to B1) but not under the eyes of the govt. I suggested in my letters that my wife had shown a concerted effort to learn English but could no longer take lessons due to her hours of work being 10 per day over 6 days. The language schools close before my wife finishes work each day and do not open on Sundays. I asked if it would be possible for my wife to come to the uk on a limited visa to complete studying and take the test again. The UKBA’s reply was an outright NO!.

    My wife and I do not object in principle to the requirement to learn English only in that it is a pre-entry requirement. I am under the impression that other EU countries may require an applicant to learn the relevant language but they do not impose it as a pre-entry requirement. It is the pre-entry requirement that is unacceptable not the requirement to learn the language.

    Total Immersion is the best way to learn a language, where better to learn English than in a place where it is spoken and heard every minute of every day. My wife’s level of English exceeds the required level but the double standards set by the UKBA mean her grades are not sufficient. For my wife to take an easier test such as KET would involve a trip of over a thousand miles and it would require her to take at least 3 days off work. However my wife is of the mind that she needs to learn English for herself and our relationship so the easy way would be a wasted option.

    Unfortunately compassion within the UKBA is non existent as is the courtesy of a reply from the Home Secretary.

    We are now looking at the possibility of me finding work in Europe or purchasing a small cafe somewhere in Europe so we can be together and live our lives together. Our only wish is to be permitted to live together for the remainder of our lives we do not want any financial support from the UK govt and I have stated in all my letters we would pay for any translating required and for private health care.

    We could try and make a second application and request a waiver of the rule due to the difficulties my wife has in attending further lessons but we would basically throw away a thousand pounds just to get an official NO!

  • foggsy

    I congratulate the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants for this noble but very important task of giving the alternative but correct version of stories regarding immigrants in UK being peddled by many of the daily rags in this country whose only agenda is to cause rancor and and acrimony in the society by the way they distort news.
    Apart from showing their hidden agenda such stories also accurately display their illiteracy and ignorance of the staffs. The only thing they are currently able to achieve is to mis educate and brainwash those who read such rags and you can see the result in many of the above rejoinders. Even when the JCWI had clearly explained that Mrs Chapti is in no way dependent on the state, some minds that have been twisted still keep harping on about the woman taking ‘our money’ our benefits’ etc . the irony of this is that many of these people have never in their lives contributed what this woman had contributed to the British society. I know because I see them every morning on my way to work lazying around and doing absolutely nothing in terms of ‘earning’ daily bread.. In fact this woman and other immigrants like her are the one subsidizing these lazy louts who are now whining.
    I only hope you would be able to disseminate your correct versions through wider avenues like print/publications, other websites, Facebook etc perhaps people would learn, that is those who care to.

  • RHAL

    Mrs Chapti is actually ONLY trying to have the same immigration rights for her husband to join her in the UK as she would have if she were, say, a Roumaninan wife seeking to have her Indian husband join her in the UK.

    For the Indian husband of a Roumaninan is EXEMPT from this language test as it only applies to the spouses of British Citizens. So in fact we as British Citizens have LESS RIGHTS under Immigration Law than do non-British EEC Citizens!

    Yet the Daily Mail does not realise this! How odd that a newspaper supposedly so British is therefore supporting a law that directly gives less rights to British Citizens!

    I wish Mrs Chapti every success in leading this attempt to restore to British Citizens the same rights regarding their spouses as EEC Citizens living in the UK enjoy.

    • Lionel Barnes

      HEAR HEAR!!!. I am one of thiose British citizens, by birth I might add, that is being denied the right to bring my wife to the uk because she is Russian. She took the IELTS test achieved an overall band score of 4 but because her speaking score was only grade 3 it is deemed as a failure.
      My wife has achieved at the very minimum level A2 yet is denied a visa because she took the IELTS test which this govt has decided means she must achieve level B1. When the published minimum is level A1 this seems ludicrous to us. We have written to various govt ministers including the home secretary but they fail to respond with a solution or any reasoning why my wifes grades are unacceptable. I wait with baited breath for the outcome of this case.

  • Lionel Barnes

    Maybe I am mis-informed but it is my belief that other countries who insist on immigrants learning the language do not specify it as a pre-entry requirement. Anyone wishing to settle is informed it is a requirement and are given time to learn the language in country. We who marry non-eu spouses would, I am sure, be quite happy to accept such a requirement. At least then we can offer support and assistance and our spouses would hear the language on a daily basis.

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