Agriculture and agri-food industries have a general reliance on temporary foreign workers to fill labour shortages. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult to access foreign workers and bring them to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our Accessing Agriculture Industry Temporary Foreign Workers blog highlighted some of the ongoing challenges employers face due to travel restrictions and self-isolation requirements. Luckily, a pilot immigration program announced in 2019 has now launched online.
The Government of Canada’s Agri-Food Immigration Pilot Program (the “Pilot”) recently began accepting applications. The Pilot allows eligible foreign workers to apply for permanent residence. This is a welcome opportunity for employers to secure more stable labour to fill full-time, year-round positions. Although it may not open up more access to new foreign workers, it will allow employers in the agriculture and agri-food industry to retain existing foreign workers by accessing permanent residency status in Canada. Prior to the Pilot, many of the employment positions included did not create a path towards permanent residency as they were too low-wage or low-skilled.
In a news release on May 15, 2020, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) stated that the Pilot will help to ensure that employers in the agriculture and agri-food sectors can retain the essential skilled labour to improve food security, the economy and living standards in Canada.
To be eligible for the Pilot, foreign worker applicants must:
- Have a minimum of one year of non-seasonal, full-time work in the past three years that was gained through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program on the basis of a Labour Market Impact Assessment in one of the eligible occupations from an eligible industry;
- have a genuine job offer in a non-seasonal, full-time, position in an eligible occupation in an eligible industry;
- meet or exceed language requirements;
- meet or exceed educational requirements;
- have sufficient settlement funds (if applicable); and
- maintain temporary resident status if they are already in Canada.
There are several eligible industries and occupations under the Pilot, including the following:
- Meat product manufacturing:
- Retail butchers;
- Industrial butchers;
- Farm supervisors and specialized livestock workers; and
- Food processing labourers.
- Greenhouse, nursery and floriculture production, including mushroom production:
- Farm supervisors and specialized livestock workers;
- General farm workers; and
- Harvesting labourers.
- Animal production, excluding aquaculture:
- Farm supervisors and specialized livestock workers
- General farm workers
IRCC indicated the Pilot applies primarily, but not exclusively, to workers who are already in Canada. Therefore, the Pilot is an option that employers with current foreign workers may want to explore. If the applicant is not currently working in Canada, sufficient work experience within the past three years may suffice. It is important to note that if the applicant is not already in Canada, travel restrictions continue to apply which may cause delays.
If the eligibility requirements above are met, an application for permanent residence may be submitted. The application process involves both the employer and the applicant.
The Pilot will accept up to 2,750 applications annually until May 14, 2023. For each year, there are limits on the number of applications to be processed for each eligible occupation. Since applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis, employers and applicants may consider moving quickly to ensure that an application is processed before the limit for that particular occupation is met.
The immigration group at MLT Aikins can assist employers in the agriculture and agri-food sectors to determine eligibility and apply for the Pilot.
Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.