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Government updates exemptions to travel restrictions for temporary foreign workers

The Canadian government has formally included seasonal agricultural workers in its list of travel exemptions.

March 20, 2020  By Fruit and Vegetable

The Canadian government provided an update on air travel restrictions that were put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, and has formally included seasonal agricultural workers and fish/seafood workers in its list of travel exemptions.

According to a news release from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the latest exemptions include “seasonal agricultural workers, fish/seafood workers, caregivers and all other temporary foreign workers.”

“To safeguard the continuity of trade, commerce, health and food security for all Canadians, 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,” the release stated.


On March 18, the Canadian government restricted foreign nationals from all countries except the United States from entering Canada, plus a list of exemptions such as permanent residents, diplomats, or immediate family members of Canadian citizens.

While temporary foreign workers were included in a list of exemptions earlier in the week, the March 18 announcement only referred to cross-border temporary foreign workers from the United States and not seasonal agricultural workers.

Even with today’s announcement, the details for seasonal agricultural workers are still being sorted out. Anyone affected by the exemptions are advised “not to try to travel to Canada immediately” until the exemptions are formally in place. “We will announce when the exemptions are in place, which we anticipate will be early next week,” the statement continued.

For all individuals entering abroad, they’re expected to isolate for 14 days upon arriving in Canada in addition to health screening protocols before travel.

Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of agriculture and agri-food, issued a statement reinforcing the importance of seasonal agricultural workers to Canada’s food supply. “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,” said Minister Bibeau in a released statement.

“We will work closely with employers to ensure protocols are in place for workers upon their arrival in Canada, to avoid any health risks . . . There will always be opportunities available for Canadians interested in stepping forward to work on our farms and in food processing plants. 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,” Minister Bibeau continued.

In addition, a temporary modification is being made to the Labour Market Impact Assessment process for agriculture and food processing employers. The required two-week recruitment period will be waived for the next six months.

The Canadian government is also increasing the maximum allowable employment duration for workers in the low-wage stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program from one to two years. This move is to reduce the administrative burden for employers, including those in food processing.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) released a statement stating they are “extremely pleased to hear this evening that the Canadian government has clarified that the existing travel restrictions will still allow essential agri-food temporary foreign workers from entering Canada in time for the impending planting season through to harvest.”

“We are still reviewing the details and will be in close contact with all relevant departments and industry stakeholders over the coming days to ensure these workers arrive safely and on time, while responsibly adhering to all public health requirements. We commend the government’s quick reaction, ensuring the continued resilience of the Canadian food supply during these difficult times”, continued Mary Robinson, CFA president, in a released statement.

The CFA acknowledged that there were still many details to be worked through but looks forward to “working with public health officials and other key stakeholders to address the logistical challenges associated with this effort and ensure all necessary measures are taken.”

The Western Agriculture Labour Initiative (WALI) also released a statement saying they were pleased about the announcement but to “not attempt to make travel arrangements for your workers” until more details about how the exemption will take effect are released early next week.

“BCAC/WALI is currently working with the province of British Columbia to outline isolation protocols and travel logistics with foreign governments. Note that flight options are also limited at this time with many global restrictions in effect. More information will be available soon,” the update from WALI read.

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

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