British Columbia·First Person

I live in Canada, my wife is in India. The pandemic and our broken immigration system are keeping us apart

Simran Singh was counting the days until he would reunited with his wife — a process hampered by pandemic delays. Her flight from India was booked, when the news broke all flights from the country coming into Canada were banned for 30 days to control the virus. 

Canada’s prolonged immigration process has been hampered by the pandemic, with no end in sight

Simran Singh and Rawinder Kaur got married in February 2020. But the pandemic has slowed down Kaur’s immigration application to join Singh in Surrey, B.C. (Submitted by Simran Singh)

Update - April 27, 2021: After this column was orginally published in March 2021, Simran Preet Singh spoke to The Early Edition guest host Michelle Eliot on April 27.

During that interview, Singh told Eliot his wife Rawinder is still in India and, while her application for permanent residency to Canada has since been approved, she has not yet received her stamped passport from the Canadian Embassy in New Delhi. 

Without that passport, Rawinder was unable to fly to Canada on an April 21 flight the couple had booked. The next day, in the wake of skyrocketing COVID-19 case numbers in India, all flights from the country coming into Canada were banned for 30 days to control the virus. 

Now Singh is waiting, and worrying, as family members in India fall ill with COVID-19 and he waits for the woman he fell in love with to be with him once again.

This First Person article is the experience of Simran Preet Singh, who is waiting to be reunited with his wife. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

Like most newlyweds, my wife and I were so excited to start this new chapter of our lives together.

Rawinder and I met through an Indian matrimonial website when I was visiting my parents in India in March 2019, and quickly fell in love.

I could tell straight away that she cared deeply for her family, and our shared values about families and life made me realize she was the best partner for me.

We got married the next year in February 2020, and it was the happiest day of my life. But after the honeymoon, I knew I had to return back to Surrey, B.C., where I work as a software engineer.

I'm a permanent resident, in the process of getting my Canadian citizenship.

We thought we knew what we were getting into with the long-distance relationship.

The process could take several months, but I was going to make trips back to India every few months.

We had a plan. But then, the pandemic happened.

I flew back to B.C. on March 21, 2020, just as Canada and other countries began locking down their borders. Rawinder's immigration process got delayed at various stages due to lockdowns in India.

When my travel plans to India to surprise my wife for her birthday in May had to be cancelled, I was devastated.

Eventually, we collected all the documents and sent them to the Canadian government in early July.

But by then, we knew the process would get extended quite a bit.

The prolonged delays have caused a lot of mental stress for both of us. All I wanted was a normal married life. We both were fine waiting for the process in normal circumstances, which would ordinarily take eight to 10 months.

But COVID has made it so that she cannot visit me as she does not hold a visitor visa to Canada and she has been denied a temporary resident visa three times. To add to the stress, the Canadian government says it cannot guarantee any timelines for processing these visas.

Simran Singh of Surrey says delays in the immigration process that would allow his wife from India to join him in Canada is causing mental distress. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

So I'm caught in an impossible situation.

I cannot visit her due to COVID restrictions and as a permanent resident, I have to stay in Canada for the majority of the process. Long stays outside Canada could hinder our application process.

Sometimes this process has been so stressful and emotional that in the middle of the day I had to stop working because I was not able to focus because of anxiety and uncertainty of our future.

In early August, for the first time in my life, I had to call a suicide helpline because I was feeling so helpless that I am not able to do anything to improve our situation.

There have been many days and nights that I have spent crying which has affected my mood when I call my wife. We spend around four hours each day video calling each other.

Every day is still a struggle.

We check our application status 15 times a day.

"We are constantly spending around four hours each day video calling each other," says Simran Singh who lives in Surrey, B.C., while his wife lives in India. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Like most Canadians I want everyone to be safe. I also want the government to take appropriate actions to tackle this virus, but all this can be done with a little compassion, allowing families, spouses and children to be together and still help control the spread of this virus.

I became involved with few advocacy groups such as Faces of Advocacy or Voices 4 Families that are trying to get help from the government.

We urge the current government and Immigration minister to hear our pleas. 

We are on our way to becoming Canadian citizens, too, but this difficult process just makes us want to leave Canada altogether forever.

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Simran Singh is a software engineer living in Surrey, B.C. He is currently sponsoring his wife’s spousal application to immigrate to Canada from India.