Temporary foreign workers and COVID-19

27 mars 2020 | Carol S. VandenHoek, Veronica K. Choy, Andrea Speer

( Disponible en anglais seulement )

With the global spread of COVID-19, governments all over the world have been implementing extraordinary measures in an effort to contain the virus and its effects on the population. As part of these measures, the Government of Canada announced air and land travel restrictions including the closure of our border to all non-essential travel.[1] With growing season quickly approaching, this decision has raised concern across Canada, specifically in the agriculture and food industry as the question becomes, how does this affect temporary foreign workers?

In the Canadian agri-food Industry, temporary foreign workers are hired for occupations and activities related to primary agriculture including but not limited to: the operation of agriculture machinery, the handling of animals, and the planting, harvesting and preparation of crops, trees, sod and other plants for market.[2] The hiring of temporary foreign workers is a widespread practice among the agriculture industry in order to compensate for the lack of available labour.[3] In 2017, a total of 78,788 work permits were issued under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), a large portion of which was for agriculture workers.[4]

In 2015, 40,497 temporary foreign workers filled 45,005 jobs for agriculture operations. The top employer of temporary foreign agriculture workers continues to be the crop subsector representing 92.6% of all agriculture jobs filled by temporary foreign workers in Canada. These workers are most commonly hired in the greenhouse, nursery and floriculture industry, followed by the vegetable, melon, fruit and tree nut farming industry.[5] Given the widespread use of temporary foreign workers in the agriculture industry, there is a serious risk of a labour shortage if these workers are unable to enter the country as a result of the border restrictions in place for COVID-19.

In response to these concerns, the Federal Government has issued an interim order exempting certain categories of foreign nationals authorized to travel to Canada to work. These exemptions apply to temporary workers who were already established in Canada, who had made arrangements to come to Canada for work before the travel restrictions were put in place and new workers who are coming to Canada to be employed in critical industries, including agriculture and food processing. Temporary foreign workers are able to self-identify to airlines at the point of boarding that they are exempt under these provisions by presenting a valid work permit or letter of introduction from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.[6] Prior to boarding, these workers will be subject to a health screening and be required to enter isolation for 14 days upon arrival into Canada.[7]

In addition to these exemptions, Service Canada is expected to announce temporary modifications to the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process for agriculture and food-processing employers. The time period after the LMIA has been granted, during which a temporary foreign worker must submit his or her work permit application, is expected to be extended for LMIAs issued for high and low wage streams, the Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program and agricultural stream positions. The previous 6-month validity period for these LMIAs is expected to be extended to 9 months or until December 15, 2020, whichever is longer. Service Canada is also expected to grant validity extensions of 3 months for already approved LMIAs for a total validity period of 9 months.

These exemptions and modifications support the Federal Government’s goal of ensuring that the food supply chain is not negatively impacted by the closure of Canada’s border and that our farmers and producers have access to necessary workers to strengthen Canada’s food security during these critical times.[8]

Our Agribusiness and Food Production team members from Immigration and Labour & Employment, across the country, are here to advise farmers and producers at all levels of this sector on this matter.

Our Miller Thomson key contacts on this are Veronica K. Choy, Leader – Immigration, and Carol VandenHoek and Eric Johnson, Leaders – Agribusiness & Food Production.

Miller Thomson is closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation to ensure that we provide our clients with appropriate support in this rapidly changing environment. For articles, information updates and firm developments, please visit our COVID-19 Resources page.


[1] https://globalnews.ca/news/6711194/canada-us-border-closes/

[2] https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/foreign-workers/agricultural.html

[3] https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190708/dq190708a-eng.htm

[4] https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/annual-report-parliament-immigration-2018/report.html#migration

[5] https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190708/dq190708a-eng.htm

[6] https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/service-delivery/coronavirus/travel-restrictions.html#temporary-workers

[7] https://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/mediaroom/interim-order-prevent-certain-persons-boarding-flights-canada-covid-19-no-3.html

[8] https://globalnews.ca/news/6711597/temporary-foreign-workers-travel-rules/

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