ABBOTSFORD – Potential problems bringing in seasonal farm workers have been averted.
Western Agricultural Labour Initiative (WALI) program manager Veronica Moreno warned growers at a BC Landscape & Nursery Association meeting in Abbotsford on December 17 that they could face delays receiving Mexican workers through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) at the beginning of this year.
That turned out not to be the case.
“We worked with the affected employers and I think we were able to accommodate everyone,” BC Agriculture Council executive director Reg Ens said in early January.
The issue hinged on the need for Mexican workers to provide biometric information (fingerprints and a facial photo) before being permitted to work in Canada.
The requirement was introduced last year but only half of last year’s workers provided the required information. That means many returning workers and all new workers will need to provide their biometrics. Unfortunately, this can only be done at one center in Mexico City and that center can handle no more than 150 applicants a day.
“We are trying to get government to allow us to get worker biometrics in Canada,” says Ens.
That still means a delay, Moreno says, noting it takes two weeks to issue work permits after workers provide their biometrics.
Once provided, biometric information is good for 10 years. Workers from the Caribbean have been providing biometric data since 2013 without trouble.
As SAWP becomes more popular, it is also becoming more bureaucratic. Employers have to complete evaluation forms for all workers each year. Companies in the business of bringing in SAWP workers must already be registered and it is likely that in future, employers will also need to be registered and may even require training.
“We don’t know when that will happen,” Moreno says, adding WALI is creating a trusted employer program to expedite the process.
She reminded growers there are new worker housing guidelines for 2020. Inspections are generally conducted by the Mexican consulate.
Their reports are valid for eight months and must be posted in housing. Mexico will no longer do random inspections but the BC Ministry of Health may take that on. Moreno stressed that new permits are required for a change in residential use, such as going from a family home to a boarding house.
To help both workers and employers, WALI is releasing the HUB Connect mobile app in Abbotsford and Kelowna.
Piloted in Leamington, Ontario, last year, the app provides a wealth of technical and local community information in both English and Spanish.