Canada’s new agri-food pilot program will accept its first applications in early 2020, the government has announced.
The three-year agri-food pilot will fill labour shortages, particularly in meat processing and mushroom production, within the agri-food sector and help meet Canada’s ambitious export targets. The agriculture and agri-food industry is an important contributor to Canada’s economic growth and vitality, supporting around one-in-eight jobs in Canada. Agricultural exports hit a new record in 2018, reaching $66.2 billion.
The aim is to help the agri-food sector bring in full-time, non-seasonal foreign workers needed to fill growing labour gaps. This new pilot aims to attract and retain workers by providing them with an opportunity to become permanent residents following an initial two-year stint on a temporary work permit, instead of having to renew their work permits repeatedly.
A maximum of 2,750 principal applicants, plus family members, will be accepted for processing in any given year. This represents a total of approximately 16,500 possible new permanent residents over the three-year duration of the pilot.
With permanent resident status, foreign workers would have access to more of the social programs they help pay for through taxation, such as Employment Insurance and the Canadian Pension Plan. With the agri-food immigration pilot, more workers will be able to plan long-term settlement in Canada, rather than a temporary stint with little-to-no hope of settling permanently.
When the agri-food immigration pilot was first proposed earlier in 2019, it was welcomed by bodies such as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), with CFA President Mary Robinson stating, “If you’re a farmer and you don’t have secure labour, then you are less likely to make investments in your industry and you are less likely to expand your business.
“We know that labour is a limiting factor for a lot of agriculture industries in Canada,” added Robinson. “It was reported in 2014 that approximately 26,400 jobs were left unfilled and we lost 1.5 billion dollars as a result.”
The Canadian Meat Council (CMC) also applauded the government of Canada for introducing the agri-food immigration pilot.
“This pilot is vital to our sector. Our members provide year-round, permanent jobs. There’s nothing temporary about meat processing’s workforce requirements” says Chris White, President of CMC. “We currently have over 1,700 vacancies to fill with 900 butchers looking for permanent residence – this immigration Pilot will provide a pathway to residency for butchers in all provinces which isn’t available to us right now.”
The pilot is a collaboration between Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, stated: “The success of our Canadian farmers and food processors depends on their ability to recruit and retain the workforce they need to capture opportunities at home and abroad. This pilot will help to ensure that employers in the agriculture and agri-food sector have the people they need to get the job done, to help drive our economy and to feed the world.”
Eligibility for Canada’s agri-food immigration pilot
The occupations and industries eligible under the pilot include:
- meat processing (including retail butcher, industrial butcher, food processing labourer)
- harvesting labourer for year-round mushroom production and greenhouse crop production
- general farm worker for year-round mushroom production, greenhouse crop production, or livestock raising
- farm supervisor and specialized livestock worker for meat processing, year-round mushroom production, greenhouse crop production or livestock raising.
To be eligible to participate in the pilot, candidates must have:
- 12 months of full-time, non-seasonal Canadian work experience in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, in an eligible occupation in processing meat products, raising livestock, or growing mushrooms or greenhouse crops;
- a Canadian Language Benchmark level 4 in English or French;
- an education at high school level or greater (Canadian equivalency); and
- an indeterminate job offer for full-time, non-seasonal work in Canada, outside of Quebec, at or above the prevailing wage.
Employers take note
Employers in the agri-food sector who intend to be part of the pilot will be eligible for a two-year Labour Market Impact Assessment.
To complement the pilot, Employment and Social Development Canada is introducing changes that will benefit meat processor employers who are supporting temporary foreign workers in transitioning to permanent residence:
- A two-year Labour Market Impact Assessment will be issued to eligible meat processor employers, including employers who are using the Agri-Food Immigration Pilot or other existing pathways to permanent residence for temporary foreign workers in the same occupations and industries that are eligible for the pilot.
- To be eligible, meat processors will be required to outline their plans to support their temporary foreign worker in obtaining permanent residency. Furthermore, unionized meat processors will require a letter of support from their union.
- Non-unionized meat processors will have to meet additional requirements to ensure the labour market and migrant workers are protected. A tri-partite working group will be formed immediately to develop these requirements.
- Adjustments will also be made to the way the limit (“cap”) on low-wage temporary foreign workers is calculated, taking into account efforts made by employers to help workers obtain permanent residence.
- Employers who have a recent history of recruiting workers who have made the transition to permanent residence could be eligible to be excluded from the limit calculation, a number of workers roughly equal to the number who are likely to achieve permanent residence in the near term.
How to apply for Canada’s agri-food pilot
Details on how individuals may apply for permanent residence through this pilot will be available in early 2020, and we will post any updates on this page.