Mexico’s decision to withhold seasonal workers from Canada will have a minimal effect on BC farms, according to both the province and industry.
The decision was widely reported on June 15, and affects workers arriving in Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. Mexico quickly issued a clarification that the measure only affects farms where workers are deemed to be at risk. Most of those are in eastern Canada, where 600 seasonal farm workers have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 and two have died.
“We are confident that BC will continue to be able to receive temporary farm workers from Mexico since we have implemented all of the safety protocols recommended by our public health officers,” BC agriculture minister Lana Popham said in a statement posted to Facebook on June 16.
She said the province had worked closely with Mexico’s consulate to ensure that all conditions for the health and safety of workers were being met.
There have been significant issues with accessing foreign workers this year but BC Agriculture Council executive director Reg Ens said the consulate’s clarification means one less worry for BC growers.
“There are a number of challenges, still, getting workers in,” Ens says. “We had hoped to get 1,000 workers in this month, and we’re probably going to end up with 600 to 700.”
Those challenges include securing work permits in Mexico and Jamaica, where processing timelines have lengthened as a result of COVID-19. A lack of approvals led to cancellation last week of two flights chartered to carry workers to Canada. Workers are instead set to arrive on commercial flights this week and next.
“The lockdowns in various countries are delaying the processing of work permits,” Ens says. “If we can get more work permits, we will book a charter right away, but at this point we’ve been able to secure enough seats on a commercial flight.”
All going well, Ens expects 250 workers to arrive by the end of next week.
Popham, for her part, says BC is weathering the challenges well, based on her discussions with commodity groups.
“We’re pretty lucky here,” she says. “We definitely have these labour shortages with agriculture, and we’re trying to get on top of that, but there’s some farmers that are saying it’s not as bad as they thought it would be.”