Government of Canada expands National Commodity List to give farmers greater access to labour

News release

November 27, 2020              Gatineau, Quebec              Employment and Social Development Canada

The Government of Canada recognizes the important role temporary foreign workers play in supporting food security in key sectors that are critical to the Canadian economy.

Today, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, highlighted that the Government has expanded the National Commodity List (NCL) to include seed corn, oil seed, grains and maple syrup for the 2021 season. This expansion will allow farmers who cultivate or make these products to seek the help of workers through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP).

Expanding the NCL to provide labour where it is most needed, while ensuring Canadians get the first chance at available jobs, is one of the many steps that the Government is taking to facilitate access to this important labour supply. At the same time, it is supporting the domestic workforce and ensuring that the health and safety of foreign workers are protected.

The NCL helps determine eligibility and pay within the Primary Agricultural Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program. Access to the SAWP and the Agricultural Stream is limited to employers hiring workers for the specified commodities on the NCL. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers and workers using the TFW Program/SAWP are encouraged to apply early to avoid any delays.

As a complementary measure to ensure that Canadians are able to take advantage of the many employment opportunities available in the agriculture and agri-food sector, thousands of available jobs in this sector are regularly posted on
Job Bank, Canada’s national employment service.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada has made significant investments to increase protections for temporary foreign workers and address outbreaks on farms. The Government continues to work with partners and stakeholders through the TFW Program to protect the health and safety of workers and the security of Canada’s food supply chain.

Consultations are underway with provinces and territories, employers, workers and other interested parties on a proposal to establish minimum requirements for employer-provided accommodations for the TFW Program.


“Temporary foreign workers have been an integral part of the Canadian workforce and food supply chain for decades. We are working with farmers and food processing employers to ensure a steady labour supply to support our economy and ensure continued food security during these difficult times. We will continue to monitor the agricultural sector to determine if further action is required. The health and safety of temporary foreign workers remains a key priority for the Government.”

– Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough

“COVID-19 is continuing to pose challenges for the agricultural sector, and it’s more important than ever to ensure that farmers are supported. Our Government is listening to farmers and making the changes that their businesses need. By expanding the National Commodity List, we’re making it easier for farmers to use the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which will help them ensure that Canadians continue to have top quality food on their kitchen tables.”

– Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Marie-Claude Bibeau

Quick facts

  • These farmers will also benefit from additional flexibility that allows workers to transfer between employers during peak periods within the season. These benefits will help to reduce potential labour gaps resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The National Commodity List applies to both seasonal and non-seasonal work and includes the following commodities in the primary agriculture sector: apiary products; fruits and vegetables; mushrooms; flowers; nursery-grown trees, including Christmas trees; greenhouses and nurseries; pedigreed canola seed; sod; tobacco; bovine; dairy; duck; horse; mink; poultry; sheep; and swine.

  • Temporary foreign workers play an important role in the Canadian economy. Approximately 50,000 to 60,000 foreign agricultural, food and fish processing workers come to work in Canada each year. This accounts for more than 60% of all foreign workers entering Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Workers through the Primary Agricultural Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program account for less than 0.4% of the Canadian workforce. 

  • The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program is the stream most commonly used by agricultural producers. In 2019, a total of 46,707 positions were approved under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, of which 12,858 were from the participating Caribbean countries, and the rest were from Mexico.

  • The plan to consult with provinces and territories, employers, workers and foreign partner countries on a proposal for mandatory requirements to improve employer-provided accommodations was first announced on July 31, 2020, as part of the Government of Canada’s plan to take additional action to reduce the incidence and impact of COVID-19 outbreaks on farms. 

  • On July 31, 2020, the Government also announced that it is investing more than $58 million to strengthen employer compliance, increase direct support to foreign workers and support employers in implementing required public health measures.

Associated links


For media enquiries, please contact:

Marielle Hossack
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough

Media Relations Office
Employment and Social Development Canada
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