Seasonal farmworkers with valid visas will be exempt from COVID-19 travel restrictions so they can enter the country for work, the federal government says.
That news will be a huge relief for Niagara's agricultural industry, which relies on thousands of seasonal workers.
However, the workers will have to adhere to strict self-isolation procedures for 14 days after their arrival, the government said. It's not known yet exactly how farms in Niagara will ensure their workers are safely isolated.
The exemptions will not be formally enacted until early next week and workers will not be able to travel to Canada until that time, the government said in a news release.
The statement, from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, was issued on Friday night and appeared to end several days of confusion over whether seasonal workers would be allowed into the country.
“Exemptions to air travel restrictions will apply to foreign nationals who have already committed to working, studying or making Canada their home, and travel by these individuals will be considered essential travel for land border restrictions,” the statement said.
The exemptions include:
- Seasonal agricultural workers, fish/seafood workers, caregivers and all other temporary foreign workers
- International students who held a valid study permit, or had been approved for a study permit, when the travel restrictions took effect on March 18, 2020
- Permanent resident applicants who had been approved for permanent residence before the travel restrictions were announced on March 16, 2020, but who had not yet travelled to Canada
“Allowing foreign workers to enter Canada recognizes their vital importance to the Canadian economy, including food security for Canadians and the success of Canadian food producers. The arrival of farm workers and fish/seafood workers is essential to ensure that planting and harvesting activities can take place. There will always be jobs available for Canadians who wish to work on farms and at food processing plants,” the government said.
The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association said on its website Friday that the government announcement is good news for farmers across Canada.
The association “is extremely relieved to see more details released by the federal government regarding travel restriction exemptions. The past week has been an unprecedented situation the fruit and vegetable sector, and the (association) would like to thank all stakeholders, including the provincial and federal governments, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the Canadian Horticultural Council, and F.A.R.M.S. as we worked to identify quick, but thoughtful solutions to the labour shortage.”
The association said many details still need to be worked out but said it “looks forward to working with stakeholders including the public health officials, to address the logistical challenges associated with this effort and ensure all necessary measures are taken.”
Earlier this week when it looked like no seasonal workers were going to be allowed into Canada, farmers and agricultural agencies warned that decision could cripple the food industry and endanger the country's food supply and food security.
Niagara Falls riding MP Tony Baldinelli said on Facebook Saturday that the news is relieving to the farming community.
“I am pleased to see the uncertainty and confusion over the futures of the existing Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) resolved. This is an enormous relief for our local vineyards and agricultural community,” his post said.