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‘Our best guess’: WALI expects seasonal agricultural workers from Mexico by mid-April

WALI is waiting on B.C. provincial health protocols and confirmation from the Mexican government before the charter flights process can begin to bring Mexican seasonal workers to Canada.

April 4, 2020  By Stephanie Gordon

The Western Agriculture Labour Initiative (WALI) provided an update to B.C. employers who employ seasonal agricultural workers from Mexico stating that workers could arrive in Canada by mid-April, assuming a best case scenario.

“Assuming that the B.C. protocols are published early next week and approved by the Government of Mexico, Mi Tierra will have a confirmed date for the first charter flight,” the WALI update states.

Update: The Government of British Columbia published provincial requirements for employers of temporary foreign workers on April 7.

Mi Tierra Holidays is the travel agent currently negotiating with airlines to secure two charter flights per week from Mexico City to Vancouver’s International Airport – one of the four Canadian airports still accepting international flights.

“Our best guess is that this could be the week of April 13, although many factors in this guess still remain unconfirmed,” the WALI update states.

“Our best guess is that this could be the week of April 13, although many factors in this guess still remain unconfirmed,” the WALI update states.

Travel exemptions for workers from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) were formally put in place by the Canadian federal government on March 27. However, travel arrangements were not encouraged until health protocols were put in place too.

On March 28, the federal government released a list of requirements for employers of temporary foreign workers during the current COVID-19 pandemic. In additional to the federal government’s requirements, additional requirements for employers may be coming from provincial governments and local health units as well.

In Ontario, the Ontario Ministry of Health released its own guidance regarding temporary foreign workers, Guidance for Temporary Foreign Workers, on March 31. With these additional provincial protocols in place, FARMS (Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services) and CanAg Travel Services have already coordinated three flights for seasonal workers from Jamaica to arrive in Toronto on April 1, April 3, and April 5.

In British Columbia, WALI expects B.C. protocols to be published “early next week” during the week of April 6 to 10, 2020. WorkSafe BC currently only refers to the Government of Canada’s guidance document for temporary foreign workers on their Agriculture and COVID-19 Safety resource page. The protocols will have to be approved by the Mexican government before charter flights can be confirmed.

WALI expects B.C. protocols to be published “early next week” during the week of April 6 to 10, 2020.

Once charter flights from Mexico are confirmed, WALI expects the timeline for seasonal agricultural workers to play out like this:

  • Employers who had workers scheduled will be contacted by Mi Tierra Holidays in order of original arrival date to confirm the following:
    • Do you still need the worker(s)?
    • Are employers able to fully comply with the protocols?
  • Employers will be asked to sign an agreement accepting responsibility for both federal and provincial protocols.
  • The Ministry of Labour in Mexico will contact the worker(s) to:
    • Determine their availability to travel. Individual workers will make an informed decision based on protocols.
    • Provide them with travel details and logistical information.
  • Workers will be pre-screened before boarding the plane and again when they arrive.
  • Mi Tierra Holidays will organize transportation (following all protocols) from YVR to the quarantine location provided by each employer.

There are about 1,000 workers in Mexico who have work permits and biometrics completed, according to the B.C. Fruit Growers Association (BCFGA). These workers will be ready to travel once charter flights and health protocols have been put in place.

In addition, anyone booking travel with Mi Tierra Holidays must submit a release form prior to travel arrangements being made. The WALI acknowledgement and release form can be found on the WALI COVID-19 webpage.

WALI explained that each flight has the capacity of approximately 150 seats, and the cost to bring in seasonal workers will be considerably higher with chartered flights. However, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is exploring financial assistance options to help with the extra costs related to bringing seasonal workers to Canada this year.

Housing clarifications

Service Canada updated the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) processing measures in response to COVID-19 to ensure efficient processing for primary agriculture and agri-food employers this season. WALI provided clarification for employers who will be housing incoming, self-isolating workers in temporary housing versus their usual accommodations.

“If an employer is using a non-inspected accommodation for self-isolation purposes during the quarantine period after workers arrive in Canada and then transferring the workers to the long-term housing once quarantine is completed, a housing inspection report and/or photos is not required,” WALI’s housing update stated.

Employers using additional housing for self-isolation purposes do not need a completed housing inspection report. However, there are still some stipulations with non-inspected housing.

“However, if the employer is planning to use that facility for a longer time, they should consult with their [LIMA] Program Officer for specific guidance. This is fluid as the situation is ever evolving, it is very important that employers continue to advise their Program Officer of updates,” WALI’s update continued.

If the additional housing will be used throughout the season, a housing inspection report will be required.

For Okanagan growers who need extra accommodation to isolate workers, BCFGA partnered with two Travelodge locations in the Central Okanagan area to offer kitchenette suites at a discounted price of $49. BCFGA members can contact Glen Lucas or Bunvir Nijjer for more information.

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

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