After months of travel restrictions, a Chicago-area woman who's been living apart from her husband for months, has finally seen a glimmer of hope.
Aysha Shedbalkar lives in Lombard, while her husband, Rezan Al Ibrahim, lives in the Netherlands.
Their relationship has been mostly long distance while they await for approval of a U.S. spouse visa. However, for the past five months, they haven't been able to see each other in person.
Due to his status as a Syrian refugee, Al Ibrahim has been banned from visiting or living in the United States due to the Trump administration's travel ban.
Then in March, the European Union banned Americans from visiting its 27 member states. That left the couple in limbo, unable to know when they'd see each other again.
"This is probably the longest we've ever gone not seeing each other," Shedbalkar said. "It has been extremely difficult for us not to see each other for five months."
The couple met in 2016, while Shedbalkar was volunteering at a Syrian Refugee camp in Greece. Al Ibrahim was living in that camp, but also served as a volunteer, translating for other refugees.
That's how the two became friends, and eventually, fell in love. In March 2019, they got married in Sweden, where some of Al Ibrahim's family still resides.
After the wedding, Shedbalkar returned to the Chicago area to continue working as a Math teacher at West Leyden High School. But in February, she decided to take the year off, with her employer's permission, to be able to visit her husband more often. That's when coronavirus restrictions hit.
"For almost a year we were planning for this... to be able to go out there. As an American, I could be there for 3 months," Shedbalkar said. "I took a year off to be with him, and it's the one thing i cant do. I cant be with him."
Like many others, the couple relies on video conferencing and texting to stay in touch. They admit it has been a difficult journey, but have been trying to stay positive.
Stories like theirs are being shared on social media with the hashtag #LoveIsEssential and #LoveIsNotTourism.
"Because of those hashtags, a lot of pressure has been put in other countries to open up the borders to people who are in long term relationships," Shedbalkar said.
That is exactly what the Netherlands did.
On July 17, the European country approved "sweetheart visas." These allow foreigners like Shedbalkar to visit her husband starting July 27, once they prove they are in a long-term relationship.
"Finally after months and months of waiting and so many roadblocks in our quest to be together, finally we have this glimmer of hope," Shedbalkar said.
And while Chicago is their ultimate goal, they're not sure where they'll end up.
"I don't care where I need to go, what I need to do... I just want to be with him," Shedbalkar said.