For a couple married 22 years but living more than 10,000 kilometres apart, an old immigration fight has new urgency as the coronavirus pandemic ravages India.
Paramjit Basanti, a 70-year-old Canadian citizen who lives in Surrey, is desperate to bring his 53-year-old wife, Charanjit, who holds Indian citizenship, to Canada.
CBC News has previously reported on the couple, who have been married since 1999 but spent all but about 18 months living in separate countries because immigration authorities have repeatedly denied Charanjit's residency applications.
"I've already grown old waiting for this," Paramjit Basanti said, speaking Punjabi through a translator. "I'll be very happy [once] we're together … I won't be concerned and worried about how she's doing back home."
Paramjit has tried to sponsor his wife five times for Canadian residency but all attempts have been rejected: the first four because officials did not believe the marriage was genuine, the fifth because in 2001, their then-counsel conceded immigration was the primary purpose for the marriage, which became disqualifying after a rule change in 2010.
The Basantis and their current lawyers say the enduring nature of the marriage shows the union is about more than immigration. They submitted a sixth residency application in October, which Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is still considering.
But with the pandemic ravaging India, the Basantis say they can't wait any longer.
They are pleading for the minister of immigration to intervene directly and give permission for them to reunite in Canada, at least temporarily.
'Sometimes I even start to cry'
Although separated by geography, the Basantis and the people around them say they have maintained their marriage through daily phone calls and sometimes long visits in India.
Paramjit supports his wife with his earnings as a janitor and labourer, but he had a heart attack in 2017 and worries about their future.
"How much more can I continue with my age? My life is also passing by," Paramjit said.
Charanjit lives in a village in India's Punjab state but says her mind is with her husband.
"Sometimes I even start to cry. It's been 22 years since marriage happened and nothing has become of it," said Charanjit, speaking in Punjabi by phone from her home.
"I'm under stress ... I worry about him over there, alone, how must he be coping."
Situation dire in India
India's pandemic situation has drawn global attention and concern in recent weeks.
Thompson Reuters reported India has recorded 22 million cases as of Sunday, including over 400,000 cases in the preceding 24 hours.
Health officials noted Sunday was the fourth consecutive day with over 4,000 deaths, bringing the total to 242,362. There are concerns pandemic numbers in India are being undercounted.
With the situation so dire, the Basantis' immigration lawyer, Nimrita Kang, and her team are seeking the intervention of Immigration Minister Marco Mendecino to grant Charanjit a temporary residency permit so she can come to Canada as she awaits a decision on the latest residency application.
"With sympathetic cases like this, one would hope that you could almost sit face to face with the minister and just have him see the genuineness of this couple," Kang said.
Pandemic impacting immigration
Kang said the pandemic has stretched the resources of Canada's immigration system.
Her firm, she said, has close to 100 clients facing varying degrees of visa difficulties. Some are permanent residents who've left Canada to deal with urgent business but are facing challenges returning with closed visa offices and processing delays.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it could not comment on specific cases for privacy reasons but said priority processing is in place during the pandemic for many types of people, including family members seeking to reunite.
"We are processing those as quickly as possible," a spokesperson wrote.
For the Basantis, time is everything.
"We're both getting old. We're seniors. We should be together," Charanjit said. "In our younger life God didn't let us be together. At least now, as elders, put us together."
"I still have a lot of faith because that's the only way to go," Paramjit said. "Faith is all I have."
CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email email@example.com.