Temporary foreign workers exempt from some COVID-19 travel restrictions

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Thursday, March 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The federal government says it will exempt temporary foreign workers from some COVID-19 travel restrictions because of their importance to the Canadian economy.

On Wednesday, Transport Canada announced a rule that foreign nationals can’t board flights into Canada other than trans-border flights.

The government said Friday that exemptions to that rule will apply to foreign nationals who have already committed to working, studying or making Canada their home.

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Travel by temporary foreign workers will also be considered essential travel for land border restrictions.

The government said the exemptions will apply to seasonal agricultural workers, fish-seafood workers, caregivers and all other temporary foreign workers.

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The government said these workers will face health screening before travel and must isolate for 14 days upon their arrival in Canada.

“Today’s announcement will ensure both a robust response to addressing the spread of the virus, and that our farmers, fishers and other producers have the workers they need, when they need them, to strengthen Canada’s food security and provide other vital services,” Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said in a release.

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The government said it will also make a temporary modification to the Labour Market Impact Assessment process for agriculture and food processing employers to waive the required two-week recruitment period for the next six months. Workers in the low-wage stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program can now be employed for up to two years instead of one.

“This will improve flexibility and reduce the administrative burden for employers, including those in food processing,” said the release.

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Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said temporary foreign workers on farms and in food businesses helps food security.

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“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,” she said in a release.

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said the government is also responding to the needs of the fish and seafood sector.

“These exemptions mean local processors on both coasts will have access to the workers they need to keep feeding Canadians and global citizens with healthy, high-quality food sources,” she said in a release.

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The Canadian Federation of Agriculture praised the decision, saying such workers are essential to the agri-food industry.

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Federation president Mary Robinson had warned that without these workers the farm sector would face a labour shortage.

She said these workers will now be here for the impending planting season through to harvest.

“Farmers are pleased to see the government respond so promptly to the looming shortage of agri-food workers and we are committed to working with all the appropriate agencies and departments to ensure their entry maintains strict public health protocols to prevent further spread of COVID-19,” Robinson said in a release late Friday.

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“We commend the government’s quick reaction, ensuring the continued resilience of the Canadian food supply during these difficult times.”

The federation says it represents 200,000 Canadian farm families who produce all commodities.

The government said caregivers and all other temporary foreign workers would enjoy the same exemptions.

Details on when the exemptions are in place are expected early next week.

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