A woman from Chisasibi, Que., says she feels "stuck" in Africa because she misses home, but doesn't want to leave without her Moroccan husband who was rejected in an attempt to move to Canada.
"We don't want to be alone anymore. It has been 13 years," said Jane Sam-Cromarty, who is with her husband in El-Ouatia, Morocco.
Sam-Cromarty and Illyasse Gountiti started out as online friends in 2006. Eventually they married in Morocco with the Gountiti family present on July 9, 2007, and have a Quebec marriage licence.
Since then, Sam-Cromarty has had month-long visits at a time to North Africa from northern Quebec, followed by months of being apart. She said regular communication by phone and eventually through the internet played a vital role.
In an attempt to live together in Canada, the newlyweds submitted an application more than a decade ago so Gountiti could obtain a permanent residency visa.
Sam-Cromarty said Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada rejected the application on grounds that the legally married couple had not lived together for a year.
I started to feel sad, longing to be out on the land. - Jane Sam-Cromarty
Sam-Cromarty said she was disappointed their marriage was considered not genuine.
"I was devastated," she said, speaking to CBC over the phone from Morocco.
"I just want to be with my wife — we won't give up," said her husband Gountiti.
Sam-Cromarty, who's been in Africa since October 2019, said "the first attempt was a learning process."
She said she has help from an immigration lawyer in Quebec, and they are filing another application.
Lawyer says delays due to pandemic
"She's improved her odds this time around by, first of all, staying in the relationship," said David Chalk, Sam-Cromarty's immigration lawyer.
"They've been married for over a decade — and second of all, she is spending as much time with her husband and including a protracted stay."
With 30 years of service for the Cree Health Board and Social Services of James Bay, Sam-Cromarty retired in June 2019. As a Cree beneficiary, Sam-Cromarty is seeking assistance from the Cree Health Board and the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec.
"Due to uncertain circumstances surrounding COVID-19, I am not sure if I will make it home. I don't want to be alone. I need my husband," said Sam-Cromarty. "It seems like I am stuck here."
The worldwide pandemic has delayed progress and made things harder, she said. Although the first application documents are no longer admissible, it does not discourage the couple from pursuing a second attempt.
"We knew it would not be easy … We want to do this carefully. It is a timely matter," said Sam-Cromarty.
"Ordinarily, it's supposed to take 12 months, but we're not living in ordinary times," said Chalk, Sam-Cromarty's lawyer.
"There are thousands of unopened envelopes containing the applications like theirs."
October marks one year of living together for the couple — the longest stretch of time they've lived together.
"It was very tough for me just wanting to be home when I couldn't. I thought about my mother, my only surviving parent, my siblings and friends," she said.
"There were times I cried thinking about people that are heading out to their camps back home," said Sam-Cromarty.
"I started to feel sad, longing to be out on the land."