Farmers are waiting anxiously for the official word on whether temporary foreign workers will be allowed into Canada amid the COVID-19 crisis
By Jackie Clark
Confusion has abounded since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s declaration of new actions, including barring foreign nationals from all countries except the United States from entering Canada, to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The Monday announcement sparked worry among agricultural groups. They immediately initiated efforts to investigate how seasonal agricultural workers from Mexico and Caribbean nations might still be able to enter Canada. The labour of these workers is essential for many farmers to cultivate and harvest crops.
Politicians like Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s ag minister, have expressed understanding of the challenge.
As of yet, Ottawa has provided no official response, Ken Forth told Farms.com. He’s president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.). F.A.R.M.S. is a private sector, non-profit organization that helps to facilitate administrative requirements for seasonal agricultural workers.
“We put a detailed affidavit together to put in front of cabinet last night, representing all of agriculture. And we haven’t heard anything back yet because it’s a little bit early,” he explained.
“It could happen in a moment, it might happen in days.”
However, the longer the delay, the greater the potential negative effects for farmers and the industry as a whole – especially if any potential measures involve mandatory quarantine upon workers’ arrival in Canada.
Seasonal agricultural workers “need to be moving next week,” Forth said. “By Monday, if we haven’t heard anything, then farmers will start to be affected. And to what degree will depend on the crop they grow.
“We have no indication” when official word will come, Forth said.
Senator Rob Black tweeted that he had a phone call with Minister Bibeau. “She assured me that seasonal workers will be able to come work on Cdn. farms, despite boarder closures,” his March 19 tweet said. “Her team is working hard on this issue and others related to cross-border trade, food security, and more.”
But a tweet is not enough to initiate travel for those workers.
“I need official notice from Employment and Social Development Canada, Service Canada, or the Government of Canada. We are not moving any airplanes yet – we have to hear that we are allowed to. If we hear that, it’s game on. Or if we hear the other way, it’s game off. We’ll have to wait and see what they say,” Forth explained.
But if a solution is not found soon, serious consequences will arise for farmers who rely on temporary foreign workers.