At about 13 hours, a flight from Delhi to Vancouver is no short hop.
But for Charanjit Basanti, the journey to come to Canada as a permanent resident took a lot longer than that: nearly a quarter century.
Since 1999, Charanjit, 55, has been married to Paramjit Basanti, 72, a Canadian citizen living in Surrey.
But immigration officials have repeatedly denied Paramjit approval to sponsor Charanjit for Canadian residency. That means they’ve spent the vast majority of their marriage living a world apart — him in Canada, her in India — connecting sporadically.
Charanjit was finally approved as a permanent resident in September. On Saturday morning, she flew to her new home in the Lower Mainland, greeted by her husband, roses in hand, at Vancouver International Airport.
WATCH | Paramjit and Charanjit Basanti meet at YVR with Charanjit a permanent resident of Canada:
“Today, there is lots of happiness that we’re together,” Charanjit said in Punjabi, adding immigration delays made the reunion bittersweet.
“We have built no life together. We lived without children … we two had to live separately. Our caring didn’t get to flourish.
“Our lives have been ruined. We have nothing — not a house, a home, not any money. My life that I’ve endured, only God knows.”
At the heart of the Basantis’ ordeal, their lawyers say, is Canada’s immigration system overzealously trying to catch “bad faith” marriages, where a couple marries strictly to get one spouse Canadian citizenship with no intention of building a genuine life together.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) wouldn’t comment on their case but says officers must make sure people are not marrying to gain status or privileges.
But the Basantis’ legal team believes this scrutiny, while perhaps well-intentioned, is leading to hundreds of genuine couples falling through the cracks and stuck in immigration limbo for years.
Multiple rejections, rule change
Charanjit and Paramjit wed in 1999 in an arranged marriage. Paramjit sponsored his wife to come to Canada the following year.
But the application and four others were rejected. Officials believed the couple was not genuine, or they deferred to previous rulings that highlighted those concerns.
Then, in 2010, immigration rules changed, making marriages with immigration as the primary purpose ineligible for sponsorship. The couple conceded immigration was the primary purpose of one of their applications. A previous lawyer said that was common at the time to get a quicker hearing.
Nimrita Kang, the couple’s lawyer, said the successful application came down to an adjudicator looking at their decades of attempts and the evidence of their ongoing relationship — vacations together, phone calls and visits, Paramjit’s financially supporting Charanjit and their attempts to conceive a child via repeated fertility treatments — and using discretion.
“They are in a genuine relationship. Why would anyone try for that long to reunite in Canada if it wasn’t genuine?” Kang asked.
‘We will celebrate lots’
Kang says the Basanti’s case highlights the need for more flexibility from immigration officials.
“There’s lots of cases like this in our office where individuals have spent five years, six years trying to reunite, but this is an egregious example,” she said. “The process has been very brutal for them.”
An IRCC spokesperson, in a statement, said officers must ensure applicants are not using a marriage to gain immigration status.
“To protect the integrity of our immigration system, officers must do their due diligence to determine whether a marriage is genuine,” the statement read.
“If an officer is not satisfied that the relationship is genuine or has sufficient reasonable grounds to believe the relationship was entered into primarily to obtain permanent residence in Canada, the application will be refused.”
At YVR, Charanjit said there was much happiness. Despite the struggle, she said they never lost hope she would be together with her soulmate in Canada.
“How could I lose faith when [Paramjit was] fighting for me?” she said. “We will celebrate lots that we’ve been united.”
The costs of the fight are still on her mind, however. They didn’t get to start a family. The financial cost was heavy. Paramjit has been a janitor and labourer since coming to Canada in 1994, and Charanjit believes she will start a similar career in Canada as they have little money.
But they are together.
“Now I won’t leave,” Charanjit said.