Door opens to Chatham-Kent’s agricultural workers


Oct 19, 2021 - There has been broad praise for changes to Canada’s immigration policy announced earlier this year that provide a path to permanent residency for temporary foreign workers – including agricultural workers.

In Chatham-Kent, workers the Caribbean, Latin America and other countries are essential to agriculture. Without their efforts, the great diversity of agriculture in the municipality would not be possible.

Joe Sbrocchi, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, said farm organizations have supported the idea for some time.

And according to the advocacy organization, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), “Today, migrants won a major victory. At least 90,000 more people and their families will get permanent resident status!”

Yet there’s concern with the language criteria attached to the announcement. Anyone applying for the 90,000 placements must achieve a Benchmark 4 rating when being evaluated under the Canadian English Language Proficiency system.

According Gabriel Flores with MWAC, “For the first time some seasonal agricultural workers may have a pathway to permanent resident status but the requirements for passing a high-level test excludes the majority of us. This is discrimination. They call us essential, but they continue to exclude us.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers union also welcomes the announcement and urges the federal government to open the door to permanent residency for temporary foreign workers further.

While far from being the highest benchmark, the language proficiency requirement will require applicants to the program to have a working knowledge of the English language in terms of their speaking, listening, writing and reading skills. With writing, for example, applicants will need to show they can write simple sentences using capital letters and simple punctuation. With reading, understanding simple, short paragraphs and social messaging is required.

Of the 90,000 applications under the program, 40,000 will be made available to international students who have graduated from a Canadian institution and 20,000 will go to people employed in health care including doctors, nurses, housekeepers and orderlies.

That leaves 30,000 applications for temporary workers employed in agriculture as general farm labourers, food and beverage workers, nursery and greenhouse workers and fish and seafood workers. However, people employed in many other trades and occupations, including carpentry, sales, trucking and roofing can also apply.

The new pathway to permanent residence was announced by Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. “The pandemic has shone a bright light on the incredible contributions of newcomers. These new policies will help those with a temporary status to plan their future in Canada, play a key role in our economic recovery and help us build back better. Our message to them is simple: your status may be temporary, but your contributions are lasting – and we want you to stay.”

The federal goal is to accept a total of 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021.

For agricultural workers and others listed under the “other essential occupations category” the program runs until Nov. 5 or until the intake caps have been reached. There are fees involved and applicants and their family members must meet a number of conditions.

Undocumented workers employed in Canada are not eligible.