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Temporary foreign workers can apply for select financial assistance programs

Temporary foreign workers are subject to the same eligibility criteria as Canadians and permanent residents, but with specific employer and self-isolation protocols, it is unclear whether or not any of these programs will be able to provide any additional relief. 


April 10, 2020
By Stephanie Gordon


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Employment and Social Development Canada confirmed that temporary foreign workers (TFW) can be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), according to an April 10 update from Western Agricultural Labour Initiative (WALI).

In both cases, temporary foreign workers are subject to the same eligibility criteria as Canadians and permanent residents. However, given that temporary foreign workers – especially incoming seasonal agricultural workers – have their own guidelines in terms of self-isolation periods, work, and compensation, it is unclear whether or not any of these programs will be able to provide any additional relief.

In both cases, temporary foreign workers are subject to the same eligibility criteria as Canadians and permanent residents.

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Employment Insurance sickness benefits are available to people who are unable to work due to illness, injury or quarantine. Employment Insurance sickness benefits can provide people with up to 15 weeks of financial assistance if they cannot work for medical reasons. Applicants could receive 55 per cent of their earnings up to a maximum of $573 a week.

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) provides people who have stopped working because of the COVID-19 pandemic with temporary income support. The CERB provides $500 a week for up to 16 weeks. Applications for CERB opened on April 6, and the benefit can provide support for workers who have temporarily stopped working, lost their job, are sick or in quarantine, or need to care for a child or a family member.

Previously, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada has stated to WALI that temporary foreign workers would not be eligible for CERB. Now they can apply, but must fit the eligibility criteria to receive the benefit. The CERB program has been previously criticized for excluding large groups of workers, such as seasonal workers and students who were waiting for jobs to start, workers and freelancers who still have some income coming in, and workers who were already unemployed prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

WALI sought further clarification from Cowan Insurance about what this could mean for seasonal agricultural workers who are observing self-isolation and are not working. Cowan Insurance told WALI that, “Where a person is not at work because of either voluntary or involuntary quarantine, eligibility for benefits will be based on the terms of the contract, including the definition of “disability.” For example, mass quarantines issued by a health authority or cautionary quarantines issued by an employer would not qualify for coverage. This means that if there are no disabling symptoms present, benefits will not be payable.”

“For example, mass quarantines issued by a health authority or cautionary quarantines issued by an employer would not qualify for coverage. This means that if there are no disabling symptoms present, benefits will not be payable.”

For seasonal agricultural workers who are required to observe a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period upon arriving in Canada with no disabling symptoms, benefits will not be payable.

Cowan Insurance added, “If somebody is sick, for example, with COVID-19 or influenza, and they can’t perform the duties of their job, they are eligible for disability benefits.”

On April 6, the Canadian government provided additional guidance for employers of temporary foreign workers. An employer is required to pay all TFW workers, including those within the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), for a minimum 30 hours per week during self-isolation and at the rate of pay specified on the Labour Market Impact Assessment. “This [30-hour] requirement will also apply to workers in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and the 14-day period of paid self-isolation will be in addition to the minimum 240 hours of pay as specified in the SAWP contract,” the guidance reads.

For seasonal agricultural workers, this means that they will be observing a 14-day self isolation period where they will not be allowed to work and be paid a minimum of 30 hours per week during their isolation period.

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