Ottawa began accepting applications this week from employers seeking workers through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program for 2020.
Employment and Social Development Canada is taking applications for workers arriving between January and March 2020. The move aims to help employers avoid delays securing workers, a particular challenge last year for farms hiring workers from Mexico.
Mexico is the country sending the largest numbers of workers to BC under SAWP. Just short of 5,800 came to the province last year, but a large number were prevented from doing so by processing delays. When new regulations requiring them to provide biometric data were announced, concern ran high.
“God help us with the biometrics,” quipped Hugo Velázquez Vázquez, coordinator of the SAWP program at Mexico’s consulate in Vancouver during a BC Agriculture Council workshop for employers last fall.
However, the government allowed workers approved prior to December 2018 to land without providing biometric data. This took the pressure off a system expected to collect data from 24,000 workers from Mexico.
Of the 7,500 workers BC farms expect from Mexico this year, about half were able to defer providing biometric data till 2020.
“To date the 2019 SAWP season seems to be running smoothly,” says program manager Veronica Moreno of the Western Agricultural Labour Initiative (WALI).
By accepting applications in July, a month earlier than last year, the smooth course should continue.
“This way the staggered process will continue to flow,” she told Country Life in BC.
Workers who are approved to return under SAWP in 2020 and have yet to submit biometric data will be able to do so on their return to Mexico at the end of this season. The alternative is a costly trip to Mexico City, which can outweigh the benefits of the program for some workers.
Biometric data cannot currently be collected in Canada, though Ottawa hopes to have a pilot project in place this December that will allow that to happen.