Dustin (Dusty) Ford of Summerside, P.E.I., and his British fianceé, Emma-Jane Windras, are trying to get to the Island from the U.K. but say they can't afford the new $2,000 fee to quarantine at a hotel awaiting COVID-19 tests results — so they are asking for help.
But this couple has gone to great lengths to be together during the pandemic, no matter what.
Ford, 28, and Windras, 31, were online friends for 10 years but had never met when Windras came to Canada in 2018 and love blossomed.
"It was utterly magical. I have never connected with another person so instantly and completely in my life, and we just knew we had to be together," Windras said. Emma visited a few more times, and they maintained the romance.
Ford went to the U.K. on a visitor visa in January 2020 and Windras was supposed to return with him to Canada before it expired in six months.
Then COVID-19 hit, cancelling their flights and closing the border to Windras, a non-resident.
They weren't going to be separated, and instead got engaged in May. Ford was not allowed to earn money, so Windras said she struggled to support them.
After Ford's visitor visa ran out in July, he had it extended for a month, then they used a honeymoon fund Windras' family had put together to instead stay in Estonia for a month, eating instant noodles and potatoes and sometimes sleeping in a tent, so Ford could apply for another visitor visa.
"But it kept us together," Windras said.
Finally in January they said they became eligible for a common-law visa, scraped up $400 for COVID-19 tests and booked flights back to Canada.
"We thought we had everything we needed," Windras said. "We were so excited and relieved." But then she was told she could not board, because officials told them they did not have a household bill or rental receipt in both their names.
"We were absolutely stunned," she said. They had a government form stating they shared an address, and written approval from the P.E.I. government, but Windras said they were told it was not enough.
Ford wouldn't leave without her. They returned from London to Windras' parents' home in York, a five-hour drive, to come up with a new plan.
"Every time you think you look and you think you've figured it out, there's something that's been missed, something that's been ill-explained," Ford said.
They lost the $2,000 for their plane tickets, money for trains to and from the airport, as well as $900 they paid to rent an apartment in Charlottetown when they landed, Ford said.
They say they have since applied for a different visa that helps couples who do not qualify as common law, but had to hit pause on travel plans when the federal government announced all international air travellers will be tested upon arrival in Canada, and must quarantine in a hotel for up to three days awaiting test results, at a cost to the traveller of $2,000 each.
The couple says they can't afford it, and have started an online fundraiser through Go Fund Me for financial help to return home. They are surprised and thrilled with donations and kind comments so far.
And the clock is ticking: Dustin's second visitor visa runs out Feb. 26.
"This last year COVID and lockdown restrictions have really highlighted for everybody just how hard it is to be kept apart from those you love. For international couples, it is a daily reality as you are completely at the mercy of the rules of government," Windras said.
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