A woman whose passport was lost in the depths of a federal department for over a decade is finally on her way to becoming a permanent resident.

"It has cost us so much heartache," said Janina Ibarra. "I haven't seen my mother in 11 years and I have not been able to go back."

Ibarra came to Canada 17 years ago from Sri Lanka, which was in the midst of a civil war at the time. She says she had hoped to stay as a refugee. 

Before her refugee case was settled, Ibarra met and married a Canadian citizen, and he applied to sponsor her for permanent residency status. 

As part of that process, 13 years ago Sri Lanka sent her passport to Citizenship and Immigration Canada — but it went missing, leaving her with no official residency status in Canada. 

Ibarra says for the past two years she has been under a deportation order she was told could be enforced at any time, which would mean leaving behind her husband and their two children.

The situation put her and her family in a precarious position — emotionally and financially — leaving them to rely on their community for support. 

"There were times we would have money thrown in our mail slot," she said. "At the end of the day it really was the benevolence of our church and church friends."

Note buried in file

After the federal election last fall, Ibarra decided to ask her new MP Harjit Sajjan for help. 

She got the answer she was hoping within three weeks. Buried in a half-metre-tall file was a note that said the passport had been archived by the government at least five years ago, if not longer, and where to find it.

Ibarra's sponsorship application is on track for the first time since 1999. She says she hopes to have her permanent residency by late summer.

In the meantime, she's looking for answers from the federal government for the years of her life she feels were put on hold waiting for her paperwork to get processed. 

"I still have to figure out a career path, I have to get a job," she said. "How do you put a dollar amount to something that? But at the same time, there has to be some kind of restitution."

CBC News has contacted Citizenship and Immigration Canada but has yet to hear back.

With files from Belle Puri