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Seasonal agricultural workers exempt from COVID-19 travel restrictions

March 21, 2020  By Greenhouse Canada

Source: Getty Images

UPDATE: Governments at all levels continue to work on protocols for bringing temporary foreign workers to Canada, including flight alternatives. The current priority is to bring Canadians and permanent residents home. Growers are asked to not contact their local offices about travel arrangements at this time.

The federal government has officially announced exemptions to COVID-19 travel restrictions for seasonal agricultural workers.

According to the release, temporary foreign workers in agriculture, agri-food, seafood processing and other key industries will be allowed to travel to Canada under exemptions being put in place to the air travel restrictions that took effect on March 18. All individuals entering from abroad will isolate for 14 days upon their arrival in Canada.


“The participation of temporary foreign workers on our farms and our food businesses is absolutely necessary. It is nothing less than an issue of food security,” states Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food, Marie-Claude Bibeau in a release late Friday evening. “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 a press conference this afternoon, Bibeau adds that employers will be responsible for ensuring that workers are free of COVID-19 symptoms before getting on the plane and enforcing self-isolation measures after arrival in Canada. “If they don’t, they will forfeit the right to hire foreign workers for the coming years.” Most agricultural workers will be coming from Mexico, Jamaica, Guatemala and other Caribbean nations.

In addition, the normally required two-week recruitment period of the Labour Market Impact Assessment process will be waived for the next 6 months.

The maximum allowable employment duration for workers in the low-wage stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program will be increased from 1 to 2 years.

“There will always be opportunities available for Canadians interested in stepping forward to work on our farms and in food processing plants,” continues Bibeau. “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.”

Those affected by these exemptions are cautioned not to try travelling to Canada immediately. The federal government expects to have exemptions in place early next week and details will be announced.

The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) says they are waiting on more concrete details about the exemption, particularly around the required isolation protocols and confirmation on which countries will be included.

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