Border still open to foreign farmworkers; ‘their importance cannot be over-estimated’

But will be turned back if they show signs of Covid-19

Closing the Canada-United States border to slow the Covid-19 pandemic won’t keep foreign workers from farmers’ fields this year, says Agriculture Canada.

Workers from Mexico, Guatemala and other Central American countries with visas will still be able to enter Canada, provided they self-isolate for 14 days.

Agriculture Canada says approximately 45,000 migrant workers come here every year to work in the agricultural sector, the vast majority in Quebec and Ontario.

They also help local farmers, says the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture, which has some 1,500 members.

“They’re used in vegetables and small things where it’s pretty hard to mechanize,” said past-president Jim H. Partridge, also mentioning asparagus and blueberries, “wherever there’s a high demand for labour, like potatoes.

“If a vegetable grower, for instance, can’t get their crop in the ground, or get it looked after during growing season or harvested…”

Jim H. Partridge, past president, Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture

Partridge said foreign farmworkers also fix agricultural equipment but are not needed on dairy farms or other operations that are mechanized, such as feedlots.

But their importance cannot be over-estimated.

Agriculture Canada says they are often experienced workers who have long-standing relationships with farmers and are part and parcel of the system that keeps Canadians fed – particularly during the summer. And since the vast majority of our produce comes from Canada, it’s not possible without these workers.

These are also jobs that are not currently being filled by Canadians.

But the same rules apply to foreign workers showing Covid-19 symptoms before boarding a plane for Canada; they will be turned back.

On Wednesday, both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and American President Donald Trump announced the Canada-US border would be temporarily closed to non-essential travel to slow the spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus.

Travellers will no longer be able to cross the border for tourism and recreation, but supply chains will be preserved to ensure that food, fuel and life-saving medicines reach citizens on both sides of the border.

“This critical step is about protecting the health and safety of our citizens while preserving economic stability in this difficult and uncertain time,” said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair in a tweet Wednesday.

banner image of Jim Partridge via Bob Bruton