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English test for husband of 37 years

London, July 27: Rashida Chapti, an Indian wife who is trying to get her husband over from a village in Gujarat to join her at her home in Leicester, has been told by British immigration officers that he will not be given permission to live in Britain because he neither speaks nor writes any English.

Her case is an unusual one. She is 54, a British national, while her husband, Vali, who is 57, has been living in India during 37 years of marriage during which they have had six children.

Rashida, who was allowed to come to the UK six years ago because she is a British subject, wants her husband to settle permanently with her in Leicester.

She applied three years ago but has been caught out by a change in the rules introduced in June 2010 by the home secretary, Theresa May, aimed at reducing migration to Britain.

This was explained by a home office spokesperson who said: “We believe it is entirely reasonable that anyone intending to live and work in the UK understands English to enable them to integrate and fully participate within our society.”

The spokesperson added: “Last November (when the rule was adopted by parliament), we introduced requirements that those intending to marry in the UK demonstrate a basic knowledge of the language and we are currently consulting on proposals to strengthen requirements and ensure those applying to settle here can readily understand everyday English.”

The problem for the home office is that its ruling appears to be in conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights, which enshrines the right to family life.

Indeed, Britain was a strong advocate of this principle in the days when Soviet Jews were being prevented by the state from joining their close relatives in Israel.

Also, the new ruling does not apply to nationals of the European Union who are guaranteed free movement of labour and can enter Britain even if they don’t speak a word of English.

Rashida, who is asking the high court to overturn the home office ruling, is now involved in what is seen as an important test.

Rashida and her husband and two other couples, who are in a situation similar to theirs, are being supported by Liberty, the civil rights group headed by a Bengali woman, Shami Chakravarti, and by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

Corinna Ferguson, legal officer for Liberty, argued: “Requiring spouses from certain countries to pass a language test before coming to the UK inevitably separates genuine families. We fear that this discriminatory policy has more to do with looking tough on immigration than any real desire to encourage integration.”

In wide coverage of Rashida’s case, several papers have made out that her husband’s right not to speak English is being infringed.

Rashida has 10 brothers and sisters in Leicester and was granted British citizenship six years ago.

Mian Mayat, a Leicester City councillor who is helping Rashida and her husband, said: “In six years, she has only been back to India to see her husband once, during a holiday last year. Her youngest son, Sohail, is 16 and she is also fighting for him to become a British citizen.”

Most of her other children are now married and living in India.

Mayat told The Telegraph that Rashida, a “British subject born in East Africa”, was taken to India at the age of 15 by her parents. Rashida, “who speaks some English but understands the language she lacks confidence”, came to Leicester six years ago to join her four brothers and six sisters.

Three years ago, she made an application for her husband, who is currently living in Valan in the district of Baroda, to join her “but they (immigration officials) were not sure if he was her real husband”.

At the high court sitting in Birmingham, Manjit Gill QC, representing another couple, told the judge, Justice Beatson, that the new home office requirement was a breach of their human rights and discriminated on grounds of race and ethnicity.

He said it contravened several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights Article 8, the right to family life, Article 12, the right to marry, and Article 14, to be free of discrimination.

Gill said the measure prevented people who are British citizens and settled in the country from living with their partners, adding: “That vice is compounded by the fact that the measure does this on grounds which are blatantly, admittedly, racially discriminatory.”

Gill said the three couples in the case are married but the argument could also be applied to couples intending to marry because Article 8 protects the right of a British citizen and those settled in the UK to develop a family life.

He said the rule discriminated against people because of their race and nationality, and would particularly affect people from the Indian subcontinent or West Asia.

“Nationality and non-English speaking are all linked up with concepts of race and ethnicity,” Gill commented. “There is a really powerful factor therefore operating here, that the discrimination is being drawn on grounds which are racially discriminatory in a pejorative sense.”

Public opinion, judging by readers’ comments in newspapers, does not seem to be very sympathetic to Rashida.

“What’s stopping her going to live with him?” asked one reader.

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