Foreign help for local farms

October 13, 2015

The number of farms across Canada is dwindling, as is the number of younger farmers. This means there is more pressure on existing Canadian farmers to provide high quality, high yielding crops and livestock each season. As a result, farmers may rely on help from temporary foreign workers to help fill labour shortages. There are several options for hiring foreign help, but the challenges associated with the programs are numerous.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) have worked with leaders in the agricultural industry to establish some robust immigration programs that would help meet their needs. The original program, which is still heavily relied upon today, is the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). This program allows Canadian farm operators in specific commodities to temporarily hire skilled and experienced help from Mexico and the Caribbean commonwealth for up to eight months each year. More recently, ESDC added a second and more expanded program known as the Agricultural Stream, which is open to all citizens and allows for 24-month work permits. Depending on their needs, farmers may also leverage the traditional Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) for high and low-wage positions as an alternative to the agriculture-specific programs.

In June 2014 the government introduced some sweeping changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, making it more complex and difficult for employers to navigate. The changes were implemented with the idea that Canadians come first for available jobs, while the Temporary Foreign Worker Program would be used only as a last resort when there are no qualified Canadians. The program now mandates more comprehensive advertising, limited work permit durations or transition plans, and significant penalties for non-compliance. Most notably the government processing fee was increased 350% to C$1,000 per position for low and high-wage positions. However, LMIAs issued under either of the Agricultural programs remain fee exempt. The fee hike was instituted to sustain the administrative costs for assessing LMIAs as well as managing the compliance audits and site inspections. Although these changes aim to protect the Canadian labour market, the reality is that Canadian employers are handcuffed by a lack of Canadian workers and too much administrative burden to work through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. So while it seems that there are a number of options for employers in the industry, in practice producers are still having a hard time meeting their labour needs.

Under the old rules, many employers in the industry had managed this process independently due to straightforward advertising requirements, self-explanatory forms, and a higher likelihood of success. However since the 2014 program changes, and particularly with the addition of the one in four chance of a compliance audit or site inspection, employers are often overwhelmed with the complexity and amount of work to be done.

If employers are looking to continue managing the hiring process independently, proper document retention and tracking is critical. Using a sophisticated software program is a good tool to ensure compliance, but it is often not a practical solution. Companies who use the LMIA program must save copies of advertisements, applications received, summary charts, forms and letters, and related documentation for each hiring cycle. In addition, for each foreign worker hired, they must have a copy of the contract, work permit and visa, timesheets, payroll records, housing conditions, among many other pieces of information to show ongoing compliance with program requirements. A suggested best practice is to retain documents for at least seven years because an ESDC audit can review records as far back as six years prior to the LMIA issuance. Employers who are found to be non-compliant after an audit or inspection could be fined or even barred from using the Temporary Foreign Worker program for at least two years. Additionally, the names of non-compliant employers would be published on the CIC and ESDC websites.

Like most employers across Canada using the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, farmers are finding themselves caught between administrative burdens and ongoing labour shortages. Unfortunately, many cannot commit the time to navigating the complex immigration program, and are therefore understaffed or hiring inefficient local workers. Employers need practical, reliable, and uncomplicated mechanisms to hire foreign help so they can continue delivering high quality goods to the public.

About us

For more information, please contact your local BDO office, or:

Doreen Buksner
Regulated Canadian Immigration
Consultant and Senior Manager, Immigration Services
416 369 6128

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