The federal agriculture minister tried to address some of the questions coming from farms and other businesses that employ temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in a news conference on February 12.
Employers of TFWs have been seeking clarifications regarding the federal government’s international travel restrictions and COVID-19 isolation protocols, as workers arrive for the upcoming growing season.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said all travellers will be required to take the COVID-19 test upon arrival into Canada, but in the case of temporary foreign workers, the government is going to defer the three-day hotel stay that’s required of non-essential travellers beginning February 22.
Essential workers will be able to go straight from the airport to the farm, where they must isolate for 14 days under the supervision of their employer.
This period will last for a month, said Bibeau, and then the temporary foreign workers will have to isolate in a government-approved hotel for the three-day period and receive a negative test result before they can travel to the farm.
As of February 22, TFWs will still have to show a negative test that is less than 72 hours old. They will be tested a second time upon arrival, and then given a third test kit to take with them to their place of employment isolation.
The government is “making sure we are accommodating to the workers that are essential to Canada’s food supply,” said Bibeau.
Bibeau said she will be discussing the isolation and testing protocol for after the one-month period with each province individually.
The minister indicated the government will cover the cost of the additional tests for workers, but not the cost of flights or hotels. She said the projected costs of this will vary from province to province, and have not been determined at this point.
The added cost of chartered flights with reduced commercial flight options, government-mandated isolation requirements, and difficulty getting COVID-19 tests within the required 72-hour period in the workers’ home countries are creating added uncertainty and cost for operations that normally rely on TFWs, leading some to already pull back on their plans for production of labour-intensive horticultural crops in 2021.
In 2020, Canada was able to welcome approximately 85 per cent of the workers that came in 2019.