AGRI - Temporary Foreign Workers - May 22, 2020
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- Temporary foreign workers play an important role in sectors that are vital for Canadians during this unprecedented public health crisis, including agriculture, agri-food and health care industries.
- Temporary foreign workers, as with most others entering Canada from overseas, are subject to mandatory quarantine for 14 days from the day upon which they enter Canada.
- My Department has a number of measures in place to facilitate the arrival and continued ability to work of temporary foreign workers in Canada.
- As of May 12, 2020, IRCC established a process to allow temporary foreign workers with an employer-specific work permit to quickly continue to contribute in a new job while their new permit is being processed.
- Ensuring the protection of temporary foreign workers in Canada is a top priority. This Government is working with a number of partners to ensure the safety of temporary foreign workers in Canada during this global pandemic.
- Temporary foreign workers play a vital role in our economy by helping employers fill jobs when no Canadians or permanent residents are available, and by bringing unique skills and expertise to companies seeking a competitive advantage.
- Work permits are a demand-driven area; there are no set levels or limits on the number of temporary foreign workers admitted to Canada in a given year.
- The ‘supply meets demand’ nature of Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs ensures employers have access to the labour they require to sustain and grow their businesses.
Facilitative Measures for Temporary Workers in Canada
- For temporary foreign workers already in Canada, IRCC has introduced several measures to help clients affected by the disruption in services and travel due to the coronavirus outbreak.
- For example, IRCC has taken steps to encourage and support temporary foreign workers to apply for work permit extensions and is providing more time to submit additional documentation or to complete biometrics.
- Many workers who seek to extend their work permit are authorized to continue to work while their application for renewal is processed, provided they continue to comply with the conditions of their expired work permit.
- A public policy has also been put in place that will allow temporary foreign workers in Canada who have lost their job or are switching jobs, with a new job offer and accompanying Labour Market Impact Assessment (where required), to start work right away while their work permit application is processed.
Facilitative Measures for Overseas Work Permit Applicants
- Additional special measures have been introduced to facilitate work permit issuance to those overseas applying to work in the agriculture sector.
- Work permit applications for agricultural occupations are being prioritized.
- We have also made the collection of biometrics simpler for agricultural work permit applicants where enrolment is not possible due to travel restrictions or visa application center closures, by allowing for port of entry enrollment in some cases.
- Foil-less visas are being used in exceptional cases where a counterfoil cannot be affixed into a passport due to, for example, office closures.
- IRCC is working closely with Global Affairs Canada to coordinate with foreign government authorities, including in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Jamaica and Mexico, to ensure that flights to bring temporary foreign workers to Canada are able to take place and workers can reach the airport despite local travel restrictions.
- IRCC continues to work closely with key stakeholders in Canada and overseas to identify barriers to processing work permit applications and implement mitigation strategies where feasible.
Work Permit Processing Times
- Processing times for work permit applications finalized from January 1 to May 11, 2020, at 35 days, are lower than in previous years for the same period (compared to 45 days in 2019 and 40 days in 2018). The service standard is 60 days.
- Processing times for work permit renewal applications finalized in Canada from January 1 to May 11, 2020, at 94 days, is slightly lower than in 2019 (at 108 days) and higher than 2018 (at 85 days) for the same period. The service standard is 120 days.
- Since special measures were introduced on March 18, 2020, work permits for essential occupations, such as agricultural workers, have been prioritized for processing.
Employer Compliance and Worker Protection
- In order for temporary foreign workers to be productive, they must feel safe working in Canada. The Government of Canada takes temporary foreign workers’ protection seriously and has implemented a number of measures to ensure workers are treated fairly while in Canada.
- To help ensure public health, new regulations have been put in place that require foreign workers to abide by their quarantine or isolation requirements upon arrival in Canada, and for their employers to support them during this time, including by paying wages.
Government Supports for Vulnerable Workers
- Financial Supports: The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) provides temporary income support to workers who have temporarily stopped working or lost their job as a result of COVID-19.
- Temporary foreign workers are eligible for the benefit, subject to the same eligibility criteria as Canadians and permanent residents (such as the requirement to have earned a minimum of $5,000 in Canada in 2019 or the last 12 months).
- Settlement Supports: Permanent residents and protected persons, including former temporary foreign workers who have attained permanent resident status, are eligible to receive a broad range of IRCC-funded services to help them settle and integrate into the Canadian labour market and society.
- Further, some temporary residents are eligible to receive limited settlement services as part of select regional immigration pilots, including the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.
- For example, eligible vulnerable workers have access to English and French language training as well as a range of employment-related services, including targeted supports for vulnerable groups such as visible minority newcomer women.
- IRCC-funded service provider organizations have extensive experience supporting newcomers overall as well as providing specialized services to address barriers and meet the needs of individuals that may experience increased marginalization and potential vulnerabilities.
- Ministerial Instructions were in place, from April 9 to May 19, 2020, to temporarily suspend the processing of visitor visas and electronic travel authorizations that could not be automatically approved, unless the clients applying were not prohibited from traveling to Canada by the travel restrictions. Given limited processing capacity, these instructions were put in place to allow IRCC focus its resources on serving those clients who were still eligible to travel to Canada.
- The requirement for temporary residents applicants from outside Canada to apply online continues to be in place, to support the most efficient use of departmental processing capacity, which is likely to remain constrained in the near to medium term.
Processing times - specifically which lines of business are being processed in one week
- Due to the extraordinary situation, only certain applications continue to be processed. Among applications being processed overseas, we are prioritizing those coming to work in key sectors, such as agriculture. Applications from agricultural workers from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean who meet all requirements have been processed in a week thanks to the dedicated processing team working on these files.
- In Canada, we continue to process extension applications and restoration applications. Despite reduced operational capacity, the Department has been able to maintain service levels. The service standard for extension applications and restoration applications is 120 days.
- The Department recognizes that persons who fall out of status may find themselves in a precarious position due to their lack of status.
- We have encouraged applicants to maintain their status and instituted flexible processing procedures to facilitate applicants remaining in status (e.g., allowing extra time to submit documents). Immigration legislation provides that if a foreign national has fallen out of status, they may apply to restore their status within 90 days of having lost status.
Supporting facts and figures
- In 2019, IRCC issued work permits to approximately 405,000 foreign nationals.
- 75% of these work permit holders were authorized to work in Canada without the need for a labour market test under the International Mobility Program.
- 25% of these work permit holders required a labour market test under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
- This total does not include other sources of temporary labour, such as international students and refugee claimants, who also have certain rights to work.
- Work permits issued grew by 20% from 2018 to 2019. Growth in the number of work permits issued each year is primarily the result of an increasing number of open work permits issued under the International Mobility Program (e.g., for post-graduate students, youth exchanges under International Experience Canada, and spouses of skilled workers or students).
- As of December 31, 2019, there were approximately 848,000 valid work permits in circulation. It is not known how many of these individuals were actually in Canada at the time international travel restrictions were put in place.
- 78% of all work permits in circulation as of December 31, 2019, were open work permits, meaning that the work permit holder could work for any employer in Canada. Open work permit holders can change jobs at any time without the requirement for a new work permit.
- Close to 100,000 work permits will expire by the end of May. It is not known if these permit holders are still in the country and whether or not they have been affected by COVID-related travel restrictions (some international flights to and from Canada continue to operate).
- The volume of work permit extensions processed in March 2020 is consistent with previous years. However, the output in April (up to April 27) is significantly higher than the same periods in 2018 and 2019. This is the result of prioritizing work permit extensions to facilitate labour mobility.
Canada’s two temporary foreign worker programs
- The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (administered by Employment and Social Development Canada) helps employers who are unable to fill labour market needs where Canadians or permanent residents are not available. This program includes agricultural workers and other workers who require a Labour Market Impact Assessment. Approximately 95,700 foreign nationals (out of 405,000) were issued a work permit in 2019 under this program. Over 56,000, or 59%, of these permits were issued to agricultural workers. Other occupations under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program include caregivers and some high-skilled foreign nationals (including graphic designers and computer engineers) under the Global Talent Stream.
- The International Mobility Program (administered by IRCC) facilitates the entry of foreign nationals under international agreements (e.g., trade agreements), where their employment is deemed to create significant social, economic, or cultural benefit to Canada, or where the work creates reciprocal opportunities for Canadians and permanent residents to work abroad. This program exempts applicants from a Labour Market Impact Assessment. Approximately 307,000 foreign nationals (out of 405,000) were issued a work permit in 2019 under this program. 32% or 98,000, of these permits were issued under the post-graduate work permit program. Other populations who receive work permits under the International Mobility Program include International Experience Canada participants, spouses of skilled workers and students, and work permits issued pursuant to trade agreements including the Canada-United States-Mexico Trade Agreement.
- Employers hiring temporary foreign workers to work in agriculture and other low wage jobs under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program are required to provide workers who are not eligible for provincial or territorial health coverage with equivalent private health insurance.
- In addition to provincial coverage, under the primary agriculture stream, key countries such as Mexico, Caribbean countries, Guatemala and Honduras purchase a package of private life, short-term disability, and health insurance for their workers.
- Employers under the International Mobility Program set up medical insurance and workers’ compensation benefits for their workers when they arrive in Canada as required by their province or territory and in line with any commitments listed in the offer of employment.
- While the eligibility criteria and waiting periods for provincial and territorial health insurance vary by jurisdiction, some provinces are temporarily extending coverage for COVID-19 related medical services to all residents of their province and waiving the waiting period.
Work Permit Extensions
- A number of temporary residents in Canada with valid work authorization, including international students and spouses of students and skilled workers, already hold work permits that allow them to change employers quickly and easily, without having to inform the Department. In 2019, close to 70% of all work permits issued were open work permits that allow a foreign worker to change employers at any time.
- Moreover, all foreign workers in Canada have legal options to apply to extend their stay in Canada should their employer choose to extend their employment, or if they find a new job. Through mid-April, approximately 91,000 such applications had been received this year— a 7% increase over 2019 intake. The majority of these workers are allowed to continue to work while their application is processed, provided they continue to comply with the conditions of their expired work permit. However, work permit holders are not allowed to start working in a different job or for a new employer until they both apply for and receive a new work permit.
- Prior to the pandemic, the process of issuing a work permit for foreign workers changing jobs or work permit conditions took between 90 (for e-applications) and 140 days (for paper-based applications) for most occupations, although the Department strives for 30 day expedited processing for workers in agriculture and seafood processing. While the Department continues to prioritize the processing of work permit requests, an accurate estimate for processing times for these files at present is not available due to fluctuating processing resources during the pandemic period.
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