Protecting Temporary Foreign Workers and Enhancing Employer Compliance with Requirements Under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Backgrounder

The Government of Canada recognizes the vital role temporary foreign workers play in supporting food security in key sectors such as agriculture, agri-food, and fish and seafood processing that are critical to the Canadian economy. Allowing foreign workers entry into Canada is the first of many steps the Government has taken to facilitate access to this important labour supply, while also ensuring that the health and safety of foreign workers and Canadians are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today’s announcement includes investments in the following areas:

Supports to temporary foreign workers

An investment of $6 million will go to migrant worker support organizations to increase outreach and improve workers’ understanding of how to protect themselves from COVID-19, their rights in the workplace, services available to them, as well as information on how to access health, income and emergency supports when needed.

Earlier this year, the Government extended the Migrant Worker Support Network pilot and increased its associated funding agreements by nearly $2.6 million for another year to build on progress made to date in supporting workers. The extension will provide an opportunity to address gaps experienced by workers as a result of COVID-19, through both service offerings in B.C., and increased supports for workers across Canada.

Resources are available for workers on the Government's Foreign Worker Rights webpage. A guide for workers is available in multiple languages, which provides comprehensive information to workers about their rights and responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as resources available.

Temporary foreign workers have also received direct emails from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) with information on travel and public health measures, as well as the new regulatory requirements for employers and temporary residents, during the pandemic.

In 2019, the Government of Canada launched the open work permit for vulnerable workers. With this initiative, a temporary worker with an employer-specific work permit through either the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or International Mobility Program is eligible to apply for an open work permit if they are in an abusive situation related to their current job. With an open work permit, the worker will be able to look for new work immediately, with almost any employer, and escape the situation they were facing.

When a worker comes forward and is issued an open work permit under these regulations, the employer that they have been working for will face a compliance inspection, which can lead to a monetary penalty, a ban on hiring foreign workers and, when warranted, further criminal investigation.

Officers will not contact an employer who has been implicated by a worker as part of the worker’s application for an open work permit for vulnerable workers. The employer may only be contacted later, as part of an inspection after a worker has already been approved for this type of work permit.

With the open work permit for vulnerable workers in place, temporary workers are encouraged to come forward rather than endure mistreatment or abuse, and employers are encouraged to treat workers with respect, comply with labour laws and immigration rules, and provide an abuse-free workplace.

On May 11, the Government also announced a new, temporary policy that drastically reduces the time it takes for a temporary foreign worker to start a new job.

While this policy is in place, a worker who is already in Canada and has secured a new job offer, typically backed by a labour market test, can get approval to start working in their new job, even while their work permit application is being fully processed. This will cut what can often take 10 weeks or more, down to 10 days or less.

Enhanced inspections regime and
improvements to how tips and allegations of employer non-compliance are treated
Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, employers are required to:

  • Not prevent workers from meeting their requirements under orders made under the Quarantine Act, as well as provincial/territorial public health laws related to COVID-19 throughout their period of employment. For workers hired under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, this means that they cannot work during the initial quarantine period.
  • Pay workers for the initial quarantine period upon entry into Canada.
  • Follow additional requirements for employers who provide accommodations to workers.

Failing to comply with employer compliance conditions can result in a range of penalties, including monetary penalties of up to a $1 million and bans from hiring foreign workers, up to a permanent ban, depending on the seriousness of the situation. These regulations support public health across Canada, as well as the health and safety of foreign workers.

As per regulations, Service Canada has the authority under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) to conduct an inspection, with or without prior notice, in order to verify and employer's compliance with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, including within the first 14 days of the temporary foreign worker's arrival.

Through a $16 million investment, the Government of Canada is immediately expanding the scope of inspections beyond the initial focus on the 14-day quarantine period and is engaging with provinces and territories to enhance information sharing to protect workers.  The Government of Canada will also increase the number of inspections significantly. ESDC will launch up to an additional 3,000 inspections with a focus on employers who employ workers who are at higher risk or vulnerable to COVID-19.  Service Canada inspectors have begun working with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the province of Ontario, and local health units to assess the living and working conditions on some farms where outbreaks have occurred. This will help inform guidance to employers related to outbreaks, as well as inspections moving forward.

During inspections, the Government will prioritize that temporary foreign workers are paid for a minimum of 30 hours/week for the duration of the 14-day quarantine, and proactively inspect any farms that have been reported to be negating this responsibility.

It remains the employer's responsibility to ensure they are complying with the conditions attached to their Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and the IRPR. An inspection may be initiated using one of the following methods:

  • random selection of employers receiving workers during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • in response to a tip or allegation received through our 1-800 tip line or on-line portal reporting any suspected non-compliance; or
  • in response to information received, including the possible spread of COVID-19, from other federal/provincial government departments or external stakeholders, including Consulates.

In cases of significant non-compliance, strict sanctions will be applied.

To better protect temporary foreign workers in Canada, the Government is also improving the worker tip line - including adding access to a live agent and provide services in multiple languages - as well as strengthening how allegations of employer non-compliance are treated. For example, a dedicated liaison officer has been established within ESDC to work with consulates and migrant network groups. As a priority, a Canada-Mexico Contact Group was created in June to collaboratively and effectively respond to COVID-19 outbreaks and ensure the health and safety of affected workers is protected. The Contact Group is working to address concerns related to potential employer non-compliance and emerging issues with the TFW Program in the current context.

Support to employers to improve the health and safety of Canadian and temporary foreign workers on farms

With today’s announcement, $35 million will help improve health and safety of workers on farms and in employee living quarters. These non-repayable contributions will be cost-shared 50:50 with employers to cover the costs of additional on-farm mitigation measures, including living quarters, improving the health and safety of all farm workers and limit the spread of COVID-19. This could include personal protective equipment (PPEs) for workers, as well as emergency off-farm accommodations. The Government of Canada will work closely with interested provincial and territorial governments, as well as local health authorities, to ensure governments’ efforts are coordinated.

In order to be eligible for funding under the program, employers will confirm in writing that they will comply with any public health order and the regulations of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and they have a plan in place to prevent the spread of a the disease.

This builds on the Government of Canada’s $50 million Mandatory Isolation Support for Temporary Foreign Workers Program to help farmers, fish harvesters, and all food production and processing employers, put in place the measures necessary to follow the mandatory 14-day quarantine period required of all workers arriving from abroad.

Employers can apply for a maximum non-repayable payment of $1,500 per temporary foreign worker if they have incurred incremental costs associated with their worker’s mandatory 14-day quarantine period such as:

  • wages and benefits of the temporary foreign workers during the mandatory 14-day;
  • cost of accommodations or the modification of existing accommodations to meet public health requirements of temporary foreign workers during the mandatory 14-day quarantine period; and
  • other incremental costs directly associated to the 14 day mandatory quarantine period under the Quarantine Act.

The Government of Canada has also worked with employers to provide public health guidance and provided $77.5 million to help processors with costs related to plant retrofits and other measures to ensure the health and safety of workers through the Emergency Processing Fund.


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