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Travel exemptions for seasonal agriculture workers now in place; health protocols to come

Travel arrangements are still not encouraged until health protocols are put in place.

March 27, 2020  By Fruit and Vegetable

The travel restriction exemptions for seasonal agriculture workers that were announced on March 20 are now formally in place, according to the latest update from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

“If you’re exempt, you can now travel to Canada,” the IRCC release reads. While workers are now approved for travel, the proper health protocols need to be ironed out before anyone boards a plane.

On March 20, IRCC announced that seasonal agricultural workers were now allowed into Canada and included in the list of travel exemptions. The clarification comes after the Canadian government restricted foreign nationals from all countries except the United States from entering Canada to limit the spread of COVID-19.

While seasonal agriculture workers were officially exempted, they were not allowed to travel until the exemptions were announced “in place” by the government. Now, as of March 26, temporary foreign workers and seasonal agricultural workers are now able to enter Canada.

However, travel arrangements are not encouraged until health protocols are put in place.

The movement of seasonal agriculture workers has been predominately industry-led by groups such as F.A.R.M.S (Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services) and WALI (Western Agriculture Labour Initiative).

The B.C. Agricultural Council (BCAC) and WALI stated in an email update that they are in communication with the government of Mexico and Jamaica to determine if local travel protocols are ready for SAWP workers, and to confirm which workers are available to travel on short notice.

Delays on both sides

According to WALI’s update, the Canadian Visa Administration Centre (CVAC) in Mexico City is closed from March 26 to April 19. Staff in the Ministry of Labour in Mexico City are working remotely to continue processing LMIAs (Labour Market Impact Assessment), but the processing of work permits and biometrics have stopped until CVAC re-opens on April 19.

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. The Caribbean is also currently processing work permits and biometrics as of March 27. However, BCFGA says despite the exemptions being put in place “there are many current delays in getting health protocols and charter flights in place.”

The arrangement of charter flights takes time and with no official health protocols secured as of March 26, there will be a delay in the Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program (SAWP). The BCFGA say their “best estimate” for when SAWP workers will arrive “changes from day-to-day” but there’s a consensus that “mid-April will be the time when the program starts up.” “But even this date is far from certain,” the newsletter continued.

The BCFGA’s two takeaway messages for growers were “please do not attempt to make any travel arrangements for your SAWP workers” and “do continue with your normal SAWP Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA)” until more information becomes available.

Isolation period, regular travel documents still required

Despite the exemptions, regular travel document requirements for air travel and entry to Canada continue to apply. For temporary foreign workers that means they must present a valid work permit, or a letter of introduction from IRCC at their point of boarding.

For anyone travelling by air, they are required to pass a health check before boarding the flight. IRCC states that “Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 will not be allowed to enter Canada by air.”

All travellers are required to isolate for 14 days even if they have no symptoms. IRCC states that this is mandatory. In addition, once workers arrive in Canada their health will be assessed before they leave the port of entry.

Agriculture-specific protocols in the works

BCAC is also working closely with the government on agriculture-specific protocols for seasonal workers coming to Canada. The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) also stated that “that details of the isolation protocol for workers that are intended to arrive after the exemption to the travel restrictions has yet to be finalized.”

Until agriculture-specific protocols are released, employers are encouraged to follow best practices for protecting workers during COVID-19 such as encouraging social distancing and increasing on-farm sanitation practices in common areas.

Until more details are known about charter flights and health protocols, continue to consult your local grower associations and health officials for the latest. 

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

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