Nova Scotia

Exemption allowing temporary foreign workers into Canada a relief for some employers

Exemptions to travel restrictions recently imposed by the federal government will allow temporary foreign workers to enter the country despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

Atlantic agriculture, fisheries industries will be able to bring in seasonal workers for 2020 season

Exemptions to travel restrictions recently imposed by the federal government will allow temporary foreign workers, international students and approved permanent resident applicants to enter Canada. (Emilie Richard/Radio-Canada)

Temporary foreign workers will be allowed to enter the country following exemptions to travel restrictions recently imposed by the federal government.

On March 16, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a series of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, including barring entry to all travellers who are not Canadians or permanent residents, with the exception of Americans, flight crew members and diplomats. 

Farmers and processors in the Atlantic agriculture and fishery industries voiced concerns about the restrictions, saying they would severely impact their season.

"The whole industry was in an uproar," said Bob Bates, who owns a farm in Belleisle, N.B.

He said his thought was there was no need to panic because he believed it would get sorted out.

On Friday, Ottawa announced exemptions for temporary foreign workers, international students with a valid or approved study permit and approved permanent resident applicants.

Bob Bates grows all kinds of produce on his New Brunswick farm. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Upon entering the country, they will be expected to self-isolate for 14 days.

Bates planned to hire six temporary foreign workers for this season and said he felt a "big sigh" of relief when he heard about the exemptions.

'Not a slam dunk'

But Jerry Amirault of the Lobster Processors Association of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia urged caution.

"It is not a 'slam dunk, here we go.' It is extremely complex," he said.

Amirault said the association is still in talks with government, harvesters and other processors because there are more factors to consider. Those include markets for seafood, storage capabilities, profitability and public health.

Jerry Amirault said there are more factors at play than just securing a labour force, like market demand and public health. (CBC)

The association has a large local labour force, and Amirault said the first consideration is to avoid putting them at risk, especially when their major markets include cruise lines, casinos and food service in Europe and Asia. Many of those sectors have been shut down due to COVID-19.

"Why would you put people at risk when there is no demand? The only demand we're really focusing on is to give food supply into the Canadian market," he said.

But for Bates, who sells his produce at a roadside stand and to a handful of Sobeys stores, demand isn't an issue.

"I feel pretty confident.… People have still got to eat, and you can't go without. I can't imagine our market being any different than in the past."