Migrant farm workers across the country are becoming a permanent part of many rural areas but they remain isolated and unable to integrate into Canadian society, according to a new study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy.
Every year, about 30,000 migrant farm workers arrive in Canada, a number that has risen sharply since the 1980s.
Most come into the country under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, which allows farmers to bring in temporary labourers with visas that last up to eight months. Farmers often provide lodging and transportation as part of the arrangement.
The migrant workers are supposed to help fill short-term labour shortages, but the study found many workers return again and again, sometimes every year for up to 25 years. After interviewing nearly 600 migrant farm workers in Ontario, report author Jenna Hennebry found that many return to the same rural community.
"Agricultural migration in particular is far from temporary in this country," said Hennebry, a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.
But a number of obstacles keep them from integrating into the communities where they have been living and working, including language barriers, work permits that tie them to their employers and housing that often leaves them isolated on rural land.
"Despite Canada’s long experience in agricultural labour migration, our programs do not measure up," the study says.
Hennebry says Canadian authorities need to do a better job of regulating the recruitment process and allow workers access to the same services that permanent residents have, including translation services and language training.
Holding information sessions on rights and health and safety issues when migrant farm workers arrive in the country would also help, Hennebry said.
Critics of Canada's migrant-worker programs say the system is unfair because it does not allow farm labourers an opportunity to apply for permanent residency in the same way skilled workers, entrepreneurs and investors can.
Hennebry echoed that criticism, saying the government should provide "a pathway to permanent residency."