Frequently asked questions: Changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program regarding COVID-19

This document is intended to complement existing guidance to employers as well as the information provided for travellers to Canada.

Travelling to Canada

1. What COVID-19 related travel requirements apply to temporary foreign workers?
  • Like all travellers, workers will be screened prior to boarding an international flight to Canada. Workers who present with COVID-19 symptoms will not be allowed to travel
  • Travellers must wear a non-medical mask or face-covering prior to boarding the plane in their country of origin, on the plane ride, when deplaning, and in transit to their quarantine destination
  • Upon arrival in Canada, workers will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and should ensure that they have the following information handy: (1) their final destination, (2) employer contact information, and (3) quarantine plan. The quarantine plan includes providing details on how the worker will get to their quarantine location, how they will obtain food and basic supplies, and assurance that they are not quarantining with anyone over the age of 65 or in a high-risk category. Workers are encouraged to get in contact with their employer prior to departure to finalize the quarantine plan details as may be asked to provide responses to these questions to the officer. If they are deemed to be asymptomatic (no symptoms), and meet entry requirements, they will be permitted to travel onwards, including via a connecting flight, to their housing where they must quarantine for 14 days
  • If they have symptoms upon arrival, and do not have private transportation to an adequate place to isolate, they may be required to isolate for 14 days in a place designated by the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) of Canada. Once they have recovered, their admissibility to Canada will be assessed and, if applicable, they may be permitted to travel onwards to their final destination

Arrival in Canada and mandatory quarantine

2. Are any temporary foreign workers exempt from the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) of Canada’s mandatory quarantine requirements for all travellers coming into Canada?
  • Pursuant to an Emergency Order under the Quarantine Act, most temporary foreign workers must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival
  • There are, however, exemptions from the quarantine requirements for some groups, provided they have no COVID-19 symptoms. These include people who are deemed by the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) of Canada to provide an essential service because they:
    • are making necessary medical deliveries of cells, blood and blood products, tissues, organs, or other similar lifesaving human body parts, as required for patient care
    • work in the trade and transportation sector who are important for the movement of goods and people, including truck drivers, crew on any plane, train or marine vessel, and that cross the border while performing their duties, or for the purpose of performing their duties
    • cross the border regularly to go to work, including in the healthcare sector or critical infrastructure workers for the purpose of performing their duties; or
    • have to cross the border to provide or receive essential services, including emergency responders and personnel providing essential services to Canadians related to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • Individuals exempt from quarantine requirements must follow the latest public health requirements including wearing a non-medical mask and physical distancing
3. What are the designations on essential services by provinces and Public Safety Canada?
  • Public Safety Canada has developed a set a functions deemed essential in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to help provinces/territories, Indigenous communities, and municipalities protect their communities while maintaining the reliable operation of critical infrastructure services and functions to ensure the health, safety, and economic well-being of the population
  • In addition, many provinces/territories have communicated essential services within their jurisdictions
  • These determinations do not constitute exemptions from the requirement to quarantine
4. Are workers eligible for Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) during the initial quarantine period?
  • No. Temporary foreign workers are not eligible to receive the CERB for the initial quarantine period upon arrival to Canada. If they do receive money through CERB during this initial quarantine period, they will be required to repay it later. Employers are responsible for paying their temporary foreign workers for a minimum 30 hours per week during quarantine, and at the hourly rate of pay specified on the Labour Market Impact Assessment and/or offer of employment. This is consistent with the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program’s genuineness policy, which indicates that reasonable employment needs are a full time workload (for example, a minimum of 30 hours per week)
  • The initial quarantine period applies each time a temporary foreign worker enters Canada, even if they are returning to their employment, such as after a vacation or absence outside of the country.  Therefore, the employer must pay wages to the worker for that period, and the worker should not apply to the CERB.
  • Should a worker become ill at any time following the initial quarantine period, they may be eligible for government emergency benefits, such as CERB. For further information, refer to Question 9
5. What is the employer’s role in ensuring the worker has access to food and medicine during the quarantine period?
  • Employers must not prevent or inhibit workers from meeting their obligations under the Quarantine Act in any way
  • Quarantine obligations require that workers go directly to their place of residence upon arrival in Canada, which includes not stopping to purchase food or any supplies. Workers are also not allowed to go to stores during the quarantine period. Further, some workers may not have access to food delivery, due to the location of their accommodations, access to internet, credit card, etc.
  • Therefore, many workers coming into Canada will require assistance in arranging for food, medicine, and/or basic supplies. Employers are expected to facilitate this as required but are not expected to pay for it. If the foreign worker needs the assistance of the employer to access the necessities of life, where the lack of such assistance would result in the worker needing to leave quarantine to obtain food and other basic survival items, the employer must not deny that assistance.
  • Costs for food, medication, basic supplies, or other necessities could be paid by the worker upon delivery, or through a payment plan. Any plan to cover costs should be mutually agreed upon between the employee and employer, ideally in writing. For workers under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) typical employment contracts provisions remain in place which allow for workers to elect to cook their own meals or arrange for the employer to provide meals at the worker’s cost

Health requirements and general guidance

6. What are temporary foreign workers’ responsibilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
  • Temporary foreign workers are responsible for following all public health measures issued by government authorities within Canada. The latest information, including contact information for local health authorities, is available on the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 webpage
  • During the quarantine period, this includes remaining in their place of residence and keeping a minimum of 2 metres away from other people. After the mandatory quarantine period, workers should continue to practice physical distancing and consider the use of a mask or face covering when they cannot maintain physical distancing of 2 metres from others
  • Workers should also self-monitor for symptoms, stay in their place of residence as much as possible when not working, and follow the instructions of their local public health authority if they feel sick
  • If a worker develops, at any time, symptoms such as cough, fever, or difficulty breathing, or believes they were exposed to someone who was sick with COVID-19, they must notify key people. This includes airline staff and border agents if travelling, and their employer, their roommates and public health authorities if at their place of residence or workplace
7. For employers required to provide housing, do the physical distancing requirements apply only during the quarantine period, or for the worker’s entire period of employment?
  • The requirement for the employer to provide housing which ensures that workers remain 2 metres apart applies specifically during the mandatory quarantine period
  • If a new person is housed in the same accommodations where other workers have already begun the mandatory quarantine period, all of the workers in the same accommodations will be required to re-start their mandatory quarantine period. The workers must be paid by the employer for the full duration of this extended quarantine period
  • It is recommended that workers continue to practice social distancing and good hygiene habits beyond the two-week period, in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Employer-provided housing that enables this would support public health objectives
8. Will workers receive health care coverage while they are in Canada, including for COVID-19 related issues?
  • Temporary foreign workers should receive coverage equivalent to other residents of Canada. For workers in the low-wage and primary agriculture streams, including the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, if provincial/territorial health care is not provided from the first day the worker arrives in Canada, equivalent private health insurance must be provided by the employer until the worker becomes eligible for the provincial/territorial plan
  • In the current context, some private insurers may no longer cover COVID-19 related issues. Some provinces are waiving typical waiting periods for provincial coverage. The Government of Canada is continuing to assess the situation and will work with provinces and other partners to address gaps. In the meantime, existing employer obligations still apply
9. What happens if a worker becomes sick with COVID-19?
  • If a worker becomes symptomatic at any time, the employer must immediately arrange for the worker to be fully isolated from others, and contact local public health officials.
  • If the worker becomes ill during the initial quarantine period, the worker is to be paid by the employer. If a worker must be in quarantine longer than the initial mandatory 14 day isolation period because the worker became symptomatic or was exposed to another person who exhibits symptoms, the worker is to be paid by the employer for the extended quarantine period
  • If the worker becomes ill after the initial quarantine period, they may be entitled to either paid or unpaid sick leave, depending on their employment contract and the relevant federal, provincial or territorial employment standards. This could include new provisions in several jurisdictions for job-protected leave because of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • A worker may also be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). In both cases, temporary foreign workers are subject to the same eligibility criteria as Canadians and permanent residents. More details can be found on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit web page

Compliance and inspections

10. What are the penalties to workers for not respecting quarantine requirements?
  • With the exception of those deemed exempt by the CPHO of Canada (see Question 2) temporary foreign workers entering Canada are subject to the requirements of the Quarantine Act, which includes mandatory quarantine. Penalties of up to $750,000 can be levied against a temporary foreign worker who violates this Order
  • A person who causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while willfully or recklessly contravening the Quarantine Act or associated regulations could be liable for a fine of up to $1,000,000 or to imprisonment of up to three years, or to both
  • Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, workers who are found to have failed to adhere to an isolation order could be found inadmissible, issued a removal order and barred from coming back to Canada for one year
11. How are deductions to be calculated for Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) workers during the quarantine period?
  • During the quarantine period, a week consists 6 working days, with a minimum of 5 hours per day, and one day of rest, which is the model to be used to calculate deductions for the SAWP workers.
12. What are you doing to enforce employer compliance with health and safety requirements? What are the penalties for employer non-compliance?
  • Employers have an important role to play in helping to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19
  • Amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations came into force April 20, 2020 and compel employers of temporary foreign workers to meet additional requirements, including:
    • Paying workers for the initial quarantine/isolation period upon entry into Canada
    • Not prevent a worker from meeting their requirements under orders made under the Quarantine Act and/or the Emergencies Act, as well as provincial/territorial public health laws related to COVID-19, and
    • Additional requirements for employers who provide accommodations to workers
  • Employers are subject to inspection and those who do not comply with the requirements could be subject to penalties of up to $1 million and a ban from hiring foreign workers, depending on the seriousness of the situation and number of workers affected
13. What mechanisms are in place for reporting instances of non-compliance to government authorities?
  • Individuals who observe suspected violations of the Quarantine Act on the part of anyone, including a quarantining worker, are asked to notify local law enforcement
  • Individuals who observe a suspected contravention of the expectations of employers are asked to report through ESDC’s Online Fraud Reporting tool, a secure online process for submitting information that will be reviewed by program officers, and who will take action as appropriate
  • Alternatively, individuals can call the toll-free Service Canada Confidential Tips Line at 1-866-602-9448. These tools can also be used to report other incidents of non-compliance with program rules and requirements
14. How are inspections conducted during COVID-19?
  • Service Canada inspections are being conducted in a virtual manner. ESDC has the authority to inspect any employer when the department is made aware of a potential danger or that the safety of workers is at risk, including during the mandatory quarantine period
  • The investigator will advise the employer, by phone and email, with all the pertinent details about the inspection and documents required. Once requested, documents must be provided to the investigator within 48 hours
  • Employers may be asked for a virtual tour of the employee’s accommodations and work environment. Interviews with employers and/or workers will be conducted by phone or video-conference. Inspectors should be informed prior to the interviews in advance should interpretation services be required
  • When providing photos of accommodations during quarantine, Service Canada does not advocate or expect employers to enter the space occupied by the workers in quarantine. Photos can be taken from outside the structure or by workers. Service Canada can also accept photos taken just before the space is occupied by the workers
  • The photos should clearly show that the accommodations are meeting the regulatory requirements. For example, if bunkbeds are used during quarantine, the photo must show that they are two metres apart from other bunkbeds, and only either the top or bottom bunk is used
  • Further details can be found on the Inspections during COVID-19 web page
15. How does an employer send the required information to an Investigator about the inspection?
  • The investigator will advise the employer, by phone and email, with all the pertinent details about the inspection and documents required. Once requested, these documents must be provided within 48 hours. There are two options to do this:
    • Employers can send required documents/information by responding directly to the Investigator at their Service Canada email
    • Employers can upload these documents through their LMIA Online Account. Once uploaded, the employer must inform the Investigator by email
  • To access LMIA Online, you must be registered with Job Bank for Employers and use the same login information (email and password)
  • More information about how to set up an LMIA online account
  • If you choose to use the LMIA Online account to share information, it is recommended to set up your account prior to an inspection, as you will have limited time to respond to the Investigator during the inspection
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