Who is Harjap?
I am a son of immigrants. I am the oldest child I spent three quarters of my time being an interpreter as my parents couldn’t speak English. This is why people think I was born in India as my Punjabi is very good but I was born here in the UK in Essex. I am father. I am a husband.
What was your childhood like?
I had a sheltered childhood. I spent a lot of time with my mother, my father had to go away a lot as my grandfather was very poorly and he had to spend 2 years in India. So my mum brought us up. My mother can’t speak English even now bless her. After my grandfather passed away my dad was back with us full time. Yet my mother is my main influence. People always thought I lived in a desi area. But actually I grew up in a village in Essex. There was only 10-15 Punjabi families the rest were majority white. When I went to secondary school there was only 2 Asians in the whole school. One was me and the other was a friend of mine called Patel. He had lots of brothers and sisters and his parents owned a corner shop. I’m not stereotyping but that was the case. I did not meet many Asians or grew up with any Asians until I went to University. As there was not many Asian families we were all close.
You like your Hindi films?
Yes! I am really into them and I was inspired by the actors like Dharmendar. I learnt my Hindi through watching films. When I was 14 years old my mother taught me Punjabi in 6 weeks I didn’t go to a Punjabi class or anything. This was in the school holidays. I did a GCSE and A-Level in Punjabi got A’s. I then watched a lot of Punjabi films and learnt a lot through there also. I love my comedy also.
Whats your day job for people who don’t know?
I am an immigration lawyer. I like to say that I change lives. I love what to do. I wanted to become a teacher in the beginning. But my dad was like no a solicitor. Or I wanted to be a singer (laughing) I practise immigration law and help them with getting status. I am the Visa man. You won’t become a millionaire doing what I do.
Before becoming an “immigration lawyer” what was you doing before that?
I was fitting windows with my dad. I couldn’t find a job when I graduated. I sent off hundreds of letters and only few people came back to me. I was fitting windows in a solicitors believe it or not. A guy came up to me and said what do you do? I remember saying I fit windows with my dad. But I do have a law degree but I can’t find a job. Then they said to me I will give you a job I will give you a break. They were impressed by my language skills.
How did you get into Law?
I had my break what I stated before. But I remember my best friend at the time in University his brother had a Law firm. I will give you a training contract and his brother was setting up and this was in Birmingham on the Stratford Road. I helped him and I even said to him lets advertise on the Asian channels. This guy never paid me he never gave me any money. In fact he made me sign on for job seekers and made me live with an illegal immigrants. Then he got an office and he used to make me sleep in the office with a little bed there. I was so used and abused, I was literally on my own in Birmingham. I used to live in a house with 8 illegal immigrants I have seen how they live. I saw it first hand. My worst bit was, I had to work Christmas day my mates brother who gave me this job. This guy he is a millionaire now. His company is everywhere. He is famous and that was all my idea. I remember calling home on Christmas day and I was crying to my mum. I remember my mum saying you are earning nothing you should be here with us. I then went to that guy and asked him for my training contract. This guy turned around and said “sorry I don’t have permission for that” I then fell out with my best friend over this as I said how could you let him use and abuse me like this. It wasn’t even my friend who told me about this it was his wife. My friend was backing his brother who was using me. I was just very upset about it all. My dad picked me up and I came back to Essex. Me and my friend no longer speak. I have seen him but makes no eye contact. Karma is a huge deal.
Also when I came back I went to work in a law firm in Ilford and I was working hard. I remember there is a time where you can become a partner. This day had come. I remember turning up and there was a box of all my stuff packed up and they told me to get out. It wasn’t even the senior partner who had told me it was my trainee. I was escorted out of the building and I hadn’t even done anything wrong. There reason was they didn’t want me to be a partner.
After that I had enough of Law and started fitting windows again. I said to my dad I have to get an office in Southall if I want to make it in Law and run it myself. So for 3 weeks I was looking for some office space. I found one which was infested with pigeons and it was awful. So my dad took it upon himself and went to look for something for me. My dad went to Southall and found a place right near the Gurdwara near Havelock road and I signed a contract and I have been there ever since. I have 3 partners who have merged and doing well.
I read that, yourself and your wife were having trouble having a child before you had your daughter Khushi. You have been very open with that which many men do not do that. You had endless taunts from the community. Can you tell me about that? What kind of taunts?
Yes! In our community if you can’t have a child you are seen to be barron or there is something not right with you. There is words in our community they use it all. “banj” which means you are barron or even cursed. So into the marriage 1 year passed then 2 and then 3. People kept saying do you not want a baby? I was like where do I get one from are they available at Tesco? If it wasn’t from lack of trying we was trying. When we was ready to give up we had our daughter Khushi 5 years ago. The struggle getting there was very very hard. I remember so clearly going to a wedding and y wife wanted to pick someone’s baby up and they wouldn’t let her as they they thought she may curse them! They made excuses about why she couldn’t pick the baby up. Came to a point where we stopped going to weddings as I couldn’t see my wife go through that or the pain. We had to put on a brave face. It was so cruel. People would avoid us. Not invite us to children’s parties. I mean that was our community. I always talk about issues what people don’t want to talk about.
We then had a daughter and people were like oh don’t worry you can try again as it wasn’t a boy. I was so happy that I had a daughter she has changed my life. I realise the outlook in life. I realise the struggle that women go through. Both my parents had no sisters. I had no sisters either. We didn’t grow up around women, I didn’t know how hard it was for my wife. I always put women first. I have seen our community at best or at their worst. I now am a father of 2 children.
Our community is quick to judge especially about IVF, Surrogacy and even Adoption. Do you agree?
Yes! We used to get a lot of taunts and comments said to myself and my wife. I said to my wife why don’t we adopt. I remember someone saying it won’t be your blood and that’s not good. I have blood that I don’t even talk too. I mean to its a little baby and I can’t understand why our community was against it. I have friends that are more loyal than family. Why does a child not deserve to have parents? Why we telling people what to think? Why do we care so much what the community thinks? People look down at people who adopt. Its really sad to be honest. IVF is another taboo people were quick to judge to say that wasn’t real it was done with an injection. When Surrogacy came up people said to my wife that you are not the real mother it wasn’t born from your womb. I can’t tell you how many comments we have gone through. They treat you terribly. If you listen to the community you will never have any children. Don’t care what the world thinks. We are quick to drag each other down.
We was judged. I mean as a male who do you talk too? I mean when you are having a drink with your mates the first thing people say is “Be a man” I mean I really don’t agree with that at all. Sharing your feelings is important. Mental health happens because we have no outlet to talk about their issues. We don’t have many Asian counsellors.
How tough was it for both of you dealing with the miscarriages?
Yes it was really tough. I remember when my wife had a miscarriage I was in the car and I had all my work colleagues with me. I couldn’t even cry I had to suck it all in. My wife was alone also. It is so hard going through that. More for my wife than myself. I couldn’t keep anything in because I would go mental! I don’t hold back and peoples opinions don’t run my life. I don’t feel like pleasing everyone. The community really don’t help. This is why Mental Health is such a massive problem because we hold a lot in. Talking about your feelings does not mean you are not man enough! You can’t please everyone. Myself and my wife never gave up and never gave up on having children. My wife is the opposite of me she is a very private person. As i’m very different quite out there. I put a post up about miscarriages and a lot of people had messaged me about that and stated they have been through the same journey. I even had someone say that their own mother ruined their marriage due to wanting kids. So everyone is dealing with something in their lives.
You have advocated against gender based violence. Is this something you have always had in your mind?
Yes the in equality in our community I wanted to do something about. I see Asian couples and yes a lot are from India. They come have the mentality of having daughter is not as good as having a son. I think sometimes how can I blame them when they are born into that society with that mentality. This has been going on for centuries. You have to try and change their mentality. I have Asian couples who come in here and they don’t even allow the women to even speak. I think that isn’t a relationship if the woman can’t speak. That’s the culture we come from. They say the men are Alpha males. The women sit at home. But things are changing. I say that its wrong. We should be treating both females and males the same. Maybe in India it will take time but in the UK i think its changing slowly.
You have your own show on MATV. How did that happen?
Well i started in radio when I was living in Birmingham. I used to live next door to Stratford Road Gurdwara. They used to have this 28 day radio licence Nankar Radio it was called. Once they invited me on there and asked me to talk about immigration. So I did. I was only meant to be on there for 30 minutes and there phones lines kept ringing! So I was shocked about that. People kept firing questions. I was there for over 90 minutes. They asked me to come back every week. I then took it to the next level and went to a radio station in East London called New Sound Radio that was above estate agents. So I thought lets take it on TV and did that with Vectone Punjab. It was just a camera and me. That was it. It became a hit. Then I went on to Radio XL I did that for a couple of years. Then someone from MATV approached me, they gave me a show every Friday for the last 10 years. I remember saying I want a show on a Monday also. I want to talk about the community issues. I just wanted to help people. I mean people thought I was a love doctor. They were asking me all kind of funny questions (laughing)
I mean i was then contacted by the BBC and did a show with Sonia Deol and then Nihal. That was where the “immigration guru” comes from. I do a lot of work with Sky TV.
You are a big supporter of Unique Home in Punjab. Why is that?
I support this massively yes. I remember I got contacted by a lady called Rupinder who told me about the charity. I asked where it was and its in Jalandhar. So I went there as I was travelling to India anyway and I wanted to check it out. I went there and there was about 30/40 girls there at that time. There is a lady who is so inspiring, her name is Bibi Prakash Kaur who picks these girls up from the street and help to educate them they rely mainly on donations and they receive no money from the government. They bring these girls up till they are married off or get settled in jobs. These girls are just abandoned. I remember they found one girl she was 2 days old and she was getting eaten by a dog. They pulled this baby from the dog’s mouth. I saw that girl she is now 16 years old. She has been raised by Bibi Prakash Kaur. Also there was a 3 year old she was abandoned at birth because she had 1 hand. As one of her arms were deformed she still had a arm. She was just abandoned. In front of the home there is a cradle, they say don’t dump them but them in this cradle. They found girls abandoned everywhere, railways, ditches and even on the side of the road. I have been doing this for 5 years now. I think women empowerment is so important.
You also do a lot of interviews for Punjab2000. Do you enjoy that? How did that happen?
Yes they approached me. We would like you interview someone in Punjabi and I agreed and I have been with them ever since. They call me when they need me. I have met Kareena Kapoor, Deepika and Akshay Kumar. I also host charity events also mainly Unique Home. I did a show for Sharry Mann.
You was also involved with Ross Kemp’s Britain documentary. How did that happen?
Yes! Ross Kemp came to my office and it was shot in my office also. I took him around everywhere and in Southall. I remember people messaging me saying are you walking down the road with Grant Mitchell from Eastenders? (laughing)
It was an eye opener for him seeing immigration first hand but he has see a lot worse. I showed him where the illegal immigrants live and how they live. We got on really well he is a great guy. He is a East End guy to he is from Barking. It was a very interesting experience.
You also have been in a Bollywood film where you played yourself.
Yes! Funny story! I don’t answer my phone on weekends normally especially private numbers. But someone called me from India. I even said I can’t give you advice in regards to Visa’s. I remember the guy was from Bombay. They said no we want you to be in a film we have seen your YouTube channel. I honestly thought he was joking. The film starred Jimmy Shergill and Neeru Bajwa.
The man said check it all out and it was legit. They said no we want you to play yourself it was shot in Canada for 2 weeks. I have done 2 Punjabi films. I have been offered other roles due to my son being born I didn’t do it.
You are also charity champion for “Me Too” raising awareness for children with disabilities.
Yes I still do this. I went to Geneva with them. Parmi does a great job. She has a had a tough journey and she loves her kids. I also check the charities before I involve myself. They are a fantastic charity.
You have a massive social media following don’t you?
Yes it has grown! I think it is down to my shows but I also add comedy too. I mean your blog is “Just Say It How It Is” I have the ability to say it how it is. I say whats on my mind. I even tell my parents if they are wrong. I don’t mince my words I just say it. I give them a reality check. I know my topics. I think people like that. I’m learning everyday.
You are very vocal as you have said do you think because of that have you ever received any backlash and negativity?
Yes I do but I have a way of dealing with it. I only see negativity if my aim is to please everyone and I don’t sit there and please everyone. I say what I think is right. I remember girls coming from India as students and then working as prostitutes in Southall this was what I presented on my show. There was a massive problem there 200-300 girls at the time. It was open and people knew about it. Everyone was turning a blind eye. I remember someone called through on the show, this male said you should not be talking about that. It needs to be undercover. I mean I was like no we should be talking about it these parents are sending their daughters to the UK thinking they are studying and they can’t go back as the parents want money. The parents weren’t even asking where the money was coming from. I mean they even said marry anyone and then bring us over. The burden is on the daughters.
The most negative thing I’ve heard about myself personally is that i’m rude and arrogant. I’m 42 years old and I live with my parents in a 3 bedroom house and I have nothing to be arrogant about. I haven’t got brand new cars I mean my car is from 2006 and i’m not a millionaire and i’m standard guy. People assume I have a lot of money and a 8 bedroom house! But I don’t. I think the people who think I am rude I think that’s because the truth hurts. People don’t like hearing about their ugly characters. Don’t stress over shitty people. Especially when people don’t know you. Let them judge.
Do you get a lot of people wanting your advice for free? Whether its on Social Media or Face to Face?
All the time. While I have been sitting with you I have had about 15 messages. I just say ring the office number now. 99% of the time people only want to talk to me for advice nothing more.
About 2 weeks ago I was telling everyone that I had a child on TV and I had 8 callers and out of the 8 only 2 congratulated me. I mean they had no interest. I mean they is no manners lately. We need to learn from that. Its amazing what lengths people go for a visa.
I mean I charge £25 for advice. People hate paying that. I don’t care what people think I just block and delete.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
Becoming a dad to my daughter is by far my biggest achievement
But on a professional level being interviewed by Ross Kemp, Panorama and Sky. I have never won an award in the UK not even nominated. The only time I have won an award is in India. Which people are really surprised. I’m also the first Asian Immigration lawyer to be on Panorama and with Ross Kemp. I was listed on Wikipedia as the first Asian Lawyer. I had 4 million hits on YouTube for my show.
What advice would you give anyone who is wanting to go into Immigration?
Learn a language. It is real important. It will help you and don’t be ashamed of your roots. Get some experience. You need to see real clients. Don’t expect to be a millionaire doing Immigration. Make sure you really study. Just focus and don’t let people to distract. Getting into law is hard.
What’s next for Harjap?
Who knows! Lets see what the future holds.
It was a real pleasure meeting Harjap he’s a real down to earth and funny guy. He really is about women empowerment. So please share and support his story.