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B.C. government will house incoming temporary foreign workers during isolation period

Temporary foreign workers will be required to self-isolate for 14 days in government-managed accommodations before being transported to farms throughout B.C.


April 15, 2020
By Fruit and Vegetable

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The Government of British Columbia will house all temporary foreign workers (TFWs) arriving in British Columbia for seasonal farm work in government-managed accommodations for the duration of the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period. Workers will be required to self-isolate in provided accommodations before being transported to farms throughout B.C. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province will fund hotel and food-service costs during the 14-day self-isolation period. The accommodation will be in the Lower Mainland near Vancouver International Airport and will not be at the farm workplace. The province is also providing access to socio-economic and cultural supports for workers while they self-isolate.

All incoming travellers, including temporary foreign workers, are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arriving into Canada as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic. For some agricultural employers who house seasonal workers in bunk houses and group accommodations, there were some concerns about how they could properly promote physical distancing. British Columbia’s employer guidelines state that “physical distancing of at least two meters should be maintained, where possible, at all times.”

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The announcement of separate isolation accommodations for TFWs will help support farmers who may not have the physical resources to house workers as required by B.C.’s provincial health officer. The separate self-isolation accommodations by the airport will also provide more protection for communities.

Earlier this week, the Government of Canada announced it will provide support of $1,500 for each temporary foreign worker, to employers or those working with them, to ensure mandatory requirements are fully met. The funding is conditional on employers not being found in violation of the mandatory 14-day isolation protocols or any other public health order.

Employers and worker responsibilities during self-isolation

Temporary foreign workers and their employers are required to follow federal and provincial COVID-19 guidelines despite these new accommodation protocols. These federal and provincial employer requirements apply to all workers, both domestic and workers from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, who are working on farms.

Throughout the 14-day period, TFWs will need to monitor their health conditions during self-isolation. If symptoms like a cough, shortness of breath or fever develop, they will need to call the public health authority or 811.

Following 14 days of self-isolation, if no symptoms develop (or once the employee is fully recovered if symptoms do develop), workers will be safely transported to their farm. If TFWs have questions or concerns about their rights, they will be able to contact workplace health and safety offices or employment standards offices.

Employers are responsible for paying temporary foreign workers for a minimum 30 hours per week during self-isolation, and at the rate of pay specified on the federal Labour Market Impact Assessment. This is consistent with the TFW program’s genuineness policy, which indicates that reasonable employment needs are a full-time workload (i.e., a minimum of 30 hours per week).

TFWs are expected to comply with the orders and recommendations put in place by the provincial health officer. In addition, all farms will need to complete a COVID-19 infection prevention protocol. The COVID-19 infection prevention checklist is currently under development and will follow the B.C. government protocols released last week. Farms will also be subject to an inspection by provincial government staff before they can accept workers.

Arriving in Canada

Approximately 1,000 TFWs will arrive in British Columbia from Mexico in April to perform seasonal farm work through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). An additional 2,000 to 3,000 TFWs are expected to arrive in B.C. after April.

Before departing their country of origin, TFWs will be screened by the airline and federal government for COVID-19 symptoms and will not be permitted to travel to Canada until they are asymptomatic. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada states that “Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 will not be allowed to enter Canada by air.”

Upon arrival in Canada, TFWs who have travelled to B.C. for seasonal farming work will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms by federal officials (Canadian Border Service Agency and Public Health Agency of Canada). If they have symptoms upon arrival, depending on the severity of their condition, they may be placed in quarantine at the point of entry or be sent to the hospital as per the federal Quarantine Act. If asymptomatic, workers will be sent to a government-managed accommodation to self-isolate for 14 days.

Employers with questions should contact AgriServiceBC at 1-888-221-7141 or by email: AgriServiceBC@gov.bc.ca

A list of Canadian government resources for temporary foreign workers and COVID-19: