Windsor

Leamington growers support pilot that gives temporary foreign workers path to residency

The three-year Agri-Food Immigration Pilot will allow 2,750 workers to apply for residency each year.

The Agri-Food Immigration Pilot will allow 2,750 workers to apply for residency each year

Aaron Hamer is the president of Highline Mushrooms in Leamington, Ont. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Thousands of temporary foreign workers in greenhouses, mushroom farms and meat processing plants will soon be given a path to permanent residency.

Under the three-year "Agri-Food Immigration Pilot," 2,750 workers and their families will be able to apply for permanent residency each year. The federal government says it could mean up to 16,500 new permanent residents.

The program was announced in the federal Liberal budget in March. Earlier this month, it was announced that the program would accept applications starting in 2020.

Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, visited Leamington, Ont. Tuesday to talk about the program.

Between visits to a greenhouse and a mushroom farm, she met with the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) association and also spoke with the media.

In attendance was Aaron Hamer, president of Highline Mushrooms in Leamington, who was supportive of the pilot.

"Our business, since it was founded in 1961, has been supported and built with the help of an immigrant and refugee community," he said. "There's a permanent problem ... [that not enough Canadians] ... want to work in agriculture."

Hamer said approximately 20 per cent of his workforce are temporary foreign workers. He hopes the pilot program will become permanent.

"The way to solve [our labour issues] is though immigration reform and settling workers in rural communities where there are farming jobs — and not enough people interested in those jobs," said Hamer.

George Gilvesy, chair of the OGVG, said the pilot signals that the federal government is responding to the needs of his members.

While it won't solve their labour shortage entirely, Gilvesy said the pilot certainly represents a "piece of the puzzle."

He noted that not every temporary foreign worker wants to stay in Canada — many want to work and "improve the status of their living back home."

About the Author

Jonathan Pinto is a reporter/editor at CBC Windsor, primarily assigned to Afternoon Drive, CBC Radio's regional afternoon show for southwestern Ontario. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.

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