Update, as of 11pm EDT Friday, March 20:
The Canadian government confirmed late Friday that it will be exempting seasonal agricultural workers from the travel restrictions put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The participation of temporary foreign workers on our farms and our food businesses is absolutely necessary,” says Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau, in a statement shared with RealAgriculture. “It is nothing less than an issue of food security. We are making sure that our food supply chain is not compromised by the closure of our borders, as we now need thousands of workers on the farms for the planting season as well as the processing of foods from the land and sea.”
In addition to health screening and employee monitoring, all workers will have to go through supervised isolation for 14 days upon their arrival in Canada.
“The over 60,000 temporary foreign workers who come to Canada to work in our agriculture and agri-food sector are crucial to our food security and our rural economies,” notes Bibeau. “This measure will ensure Canadians will have continued access to healthy and affordable Canadian food when they go to the grocery store.”
The allowable employment duration for workers in the low-wage stream of the TFW program will also be increased from one to two years, and the 2-week recruitment period in the Labour Market Impact Assessment process will be waived for the next six months.
The government says it will announce when the exemptions take effect, possibly early next week.
When the Canadian border closed to all but Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and U.S. residents, the agriculture industry immediately asked what it meant for the temporary foreign workers already hired or on their way to Canada.
At first, the official word was, no, this labour force would not be allowed into Canada. Then, on March 18, 2020, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said that temporary foreign workers with already approved visas would be allowed into Canada, but will have to observe a 14-day period of self-isolation.
So far, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has not publicly confirmed this. The ministry of immigration, refugees, and citizenship would confirm that Minister Blair had committed to allowing TFWs into Canada. However, it was still unclear at this time how that would actually work.
@mclaudebibeau was keen to put Canadian producers’ minds at ease that details around allowing workers in will be announced very shortly, so that they can continue producing food for CDNs in these uncertain times. pic.twitter.com/NqggMSSm0L
— Mary Robinson (@Agproudmary) March 20, 2020
A representative with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) says that they too are waiting to see more details on TFW status, adding, “CCA, National Cattle Feeders Association, and Canadian Meat Council have been working with agri-food industry partners to carve out a targeted exemption from border restrictions ensuring the supply of essential agri-food workers, while maintaining compliance with the recommendations of Canada’s public health agencies. Based on comments yesterday by Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, we understand that TFWs will be allowed to enter Canada while ensuring they observe a 14-day period of self-isolation. The CCA will continue to update on this file as more details are made public.”
I had a quick but informative call with Minister @mclaudebibeau today. She assured me that seasonal workers will be able to come work on Cdn farms, despite border closures. Her team is working hard on this issue and others related to cross-border trade, food security, and more. pic.twitter.com/zJLjqUAmlH
— @SenatorRobBlack (@SenatorRobBlack) March 19, 2020