Canada to allow seasonal foreign workers but they must self-isolate, minister says

Seasonal farm workers coming from foreign countries will be permitted to return to Canada, but they will have to self-isolate for 14 days in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, Immigration and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendocino said Sunday.

“It’s absolutely critical that they are able to continue that work to maintain the food security of all Canadians,” said Mendocino in an interview with Global News’ Mike Le Couteur on Sunday’s episode of The West Block.

“Having said that, it’s also mandatory that they abide by the isolation period, the 14-day isolation period that everybody coming back into the country has to comply with.”

Mendocino’s words come days after a group of temporary foreign workers employed in British Columbia’s agricultural sector tested positive for COVID-19.

In a previous statement to Global News, B.C. Interior Health said 75 workers were impacted by an outbreak at Bylands Nurseries, including 63 migrant workers and 12 local workers.

Mendocino said an “enforcement regime” has been put in place with provincial partners to ensure self-isolation rules are followed.

“When they ask for this exemption as part of our overall travel restrictions regime, we understood that they would be fulfilling that part of the responsibility,” he said.

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“For their safety and the safety of Canadians, for the safety and the security of our food supply chain, that everybody follows those rules, we’re going to make sure that [self-isolation period] happens.”

But despite provincial government promises to issue fines to those who don’t comply, migrant advocates have expressed concerns that farms and farmers were allowed to self-regulate, which could leave seasonal workers unsure of their rights.

“The government is assuming the public will abide by the public-health orders but we’re saying that’s not sufficient to protect workers,” said Natalie Drolet, executive director of the Migrant Workers’ Centre told the Canadian Press.

Over the years, temporary foreign workers have become an important part of Canada’s agricultural industry. The Canadian government says on its website that they are often hired to come overseas to fill short-term labour shortages when no Canadian citizens are able to help out.

Temporary foreign workers are employed in a variety of roles, including planting and harvesting, operating agricultural machinery and obtaining raw animal products for market.

According to the federal government, they can be hired for a maximum period of 24 months.

Speaking from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would have more to say in the coming days on how he would ensure temporary workers were properly quarantined while assuring farmers would have the support they needed during growing season this year.

“We understand that our agricultural producers [and] farmers right across the country, as well as fish processors and the fisheries industry, rely on temporary foreign workers to make sure that we can feed our country,” he said.

“At the same time, we see many, many Canadians out of work who are wanting to help out students who are looking at opportunities for summer jobs that they might not otherwise have and we know there are many people interested in helping out in terms of feeding this country.”