OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will allow temporary foreign workers with valid visas to enter the country, officials said on Friday, offering possible salvation to the agriculture industry even as Ottawa moves to limit the spread of a coronavirus outbreak.
Canada’s labor-strapped farms rely heavily on nearly 60,000 temporary foreign workers to help plant and harvest crops like fruit and vegetables. They also account for about 3% of meat and seafood processors’ labor force.
Ottawa this week said it would close its borders to all foreign nationals, except U.S. citizens, prompting industry concerns about the potential damage to this year’s harvest.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters that “valid work and student visas to come to Canada will be respected... and that includes temporary foreign workers.”
Those individuals, like all persons entering Canada from abroad, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival, she added.
Many of the workers come to Canada via the Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program. It allows farmers to hire workers from Mexico or certain Caribbean countries for a maximum of eight months, provided they can offer workers a minimum of 240 hours of work within a period of six weeks or less.
Farm groups said a lack of workers would challenge Canada’s agriculture supply chain.
In a notice sent on Wednesday, the groups sent a document to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet outlining suggested ways to get workers from countries whose borders or airports are shut to Canada, including the use of chartered flights, said sources with direct knowledge of the file.
The proposal laid out how farmers could maintain operational health and safety and ensure workers, who often live in close-quarters on farms, could self-isolate for 14-days upon arrival, the sources said.
A senior government official told Reuters on Thursday all options were on the table and discussions with provincial counterparts were ongoing.
Additional reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by David Ljunggren, Amran Abocar and Dan Grebler