While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted virtually every industry in one way or another, one of the industries currently facing an urgent issue is the agricultural and food industry, which is highly dependent on temporary foreign workers. As Canadians are dealing with lineups and limited availability at grocery stores across the country, the federal government has recognized the need to bolster the food supply chain while also protecting the health of all Canadians. To that end, the government recently announced plans to provide funding that will assist employers with bringing in necessary temporary foreign workers (TFWs) while adhering to all health protocols related to the current health crisis.

Canada in Urgent Need of Food and Farm Workers

In Canada, the agricultural and food industry relies on approximately 50,000 to 60,000 TFWs every year in the agricultural, food and fish processing industries. These three sectors alone employ approximately 60% of all TFWs that enter the country every year. At this point, these industries currently have approximately 15,000 vacancies that need to be filled on an urgent basis, yet employers have been facing a number of hurdles, including travel restrictions into Canada, recruitment obligations and mandatory public health protocols.

Travel Restriction & Recruitment Exemptions

To address the first obstacles relating to travel and recruitment, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced on March 20th that TFWs would be exempted from international travel restrictions so they could enter the country. Further, IRCC also announced that the normally mandatory two-week recruitment period that is part of the Labour Market Impact Assessment process would be waived. Under normal circumstances, an employer is expected to advertise all available roles in an attempt to fill them with Canadians or permanent residents of Canada before offering the role to a TFW. Given the urgent need for these workers, this requirement has been waived for the following roles:

  • Butchers, meat cutters and fishmongers (retail, wholesale and industrial)
  • Transport Truck Drivers (any TFW permitted to enter Canada in this role is required to have all provincially mandated training certification before a work permit will be issued)
  • Agricultural service contractors, farm supervisors and specialized livestock workers
  • General farm workers
  • Nursery and greenhouse workers
  • Harvesting labourers
  • Fish and seafood plant workers
  • Labourers in the processing of food, beverages and associated products

$50 Million Subsidy Package for Employers of TFWs

While employers are permitted to bring TFWs into Canada, these employees are still obligated to follow strict protocols with respect to self-isolation for a 14-day period. Employers are also required to treat this as a period of employment and pay workers for this period of time. In addition, employers are also required to provide employees with accommodation, transportation and access to essentials such as food and hygiene supplies so that the workers can adhere to all public health regulations. The cost of funding a two-week period during which TFWs are unable to work will no doubt cause additional financial strain for employers during a time when businesses across Canada are facing a reduction in profit.

To that end, the federal government announced on April 13th that it has earmarked $50 million to help employers safely bring TFWs into Canada to fill those roles and protect the food supply across the country. In the April 13th press release, the government announced plans to subsidize employers’ costs in this regard, providing $1,500 for every TFW an employer brings into the country. This assistance is available to all employers in the food production industry, including:

  • Primary agricultural and food processing employers
  • Fisheries
  • Aquaculture

Restrictions, Limitations and Penalties for Non-Compliance

Despite the fact that all TFWs arriving into Canada are required to self-isolate for 14 days, no person exhibiting symptoms will be permitted to board a flight into Canada. Further, once in the country, every TFW and their employer must strictly adhere to the protocols set out in the Quarantine Act or risk facing severe penalties, including fines, sanctions and potential jail time. Employers also run the risk of being banned from the subsidy program if they don’t follow the rules.

It is a difficult time for all, and the situation is constantly evolving. The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law continue to monitor changes closely and will continue to provide updates as the situation changes. If you have questions about how COVID-19 might impact your business’s immediate and long-range immigration needs, please reach out to the immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law by contacting us online or by calling us at 416-321-2860.

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