Agriculture labour shortage feared amid COVID-19 travel bans

Shelby Thevenot
Published: March 17, 2020

There is never a shortage of work to do on Canadian farms, and as Canada halts most non-residents from entering the country, agriculture industry professionals fear unfilled gaps in the labour market may affect production.

As the ground begins to thaw in the spring, Canadian farmers need to start planting crops for the year’s harvest. Temporary foreign workers (TFWs) come to do the work that farmers cannot find local workers to do. Either there are not enough Canadians applying or they lack the necessary skills for the job.

Many of these workers return to the same farms year after year, knowing the equipment and the fields like the back of their hands.

Request more information about work permits in Canada

Chris Connery, a farmer from Manitoba, says about 55 foreign workers come to work on his produce farm each year. They grow crops like broccoli, asparagus, carrots and strawberries.

“We’ve had some of the same workers coming here for over 20 years, and they know the jobs we have here through and through,” Connery told CIC News. “If we don’t have those foreign workers we would either have to retrain people for those jobs or we would have to choose to do other crops.”

Much of Canada’s agricultural industry is concerned, following the COVID-19 measures announced yesterday, that without the ability to bring non-residents into the country they will lose integral members of their team.

Steve Bamford, who sits on the board of directors for Toronto Wholesale Produce Association, said the lack of workers could spell produce shortages in Canada.

“We’re worried about food security because you can’t rely on [the] U.S.A. and Mexico to supply us with fresh fruits and vegetables,” Bamford said in a phone interview.

In addition, some farms may be at risk of losing their entire operations if they cannot adjust to the lack of workers in time to turn a profit.

Many Canadian agriculture industry organizations are working with provincial and federal governments to find some sort of solution. While there is a need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 there is also a need for temporary foreign workers.

“All we know right now is as of March 18, no foreign worker can come into the country,” Bamford said. “And if this is the case that we will not be able to have our seasonal foreign workers come into the country, then we need a plan from Ottawa to support us to see how we’re going to make it through another year.”

Kevin Lemkay, a spokesperson from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, supplied a statement via email from the offices of Canada's Minister of Immigration, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Employment.

"We fully understand the importance of a stable labour force enabling Canadian food supply, and are committed to giving Canadians and businesses the support they need," the statement read. "That is why we are working closely with stakeholders through a joint Emergency Response Committee, consisting of key agricultural and food processing stakeholders and government officials. This will help respond to issues arising from the COVID-19 outbreak."

Canada’s agriculture industry has been struggling with labour market shortages for years, looking to immigrants to help support the industry. The need for consistent labour prompted the formation of the Agri-Food Immigration Pilot that is set to launch March 30. The program is intended to provide a pathway to permanent residence for temporary foreign workers, especially those in the mushroom and meat sectors.

“In 2017, 16,500 jobs went unfilled, which cost the sector $2.9 billion in lost revenues,” the Canadian Agriculture Human Resource Council (CAHRC) webpage says. “In every province and across every commodity, labour shortages impact today’s production levels and tomorrow’s growth potential.”

For Connery, it is not only a concern of losing valuable skilled workers but the effect on the livelihoods of the foreign workers themselves.

“We really care about these guys,” Connery said. “It’s wonderful, every year I have somebody come up to me and say, ‘This year I’m going home and building a house,’ or ‘This year I’m putting an addition on.’ These are people we really care about.” will update this article and release additional coronavirus stories as this situation continues to unfold. For information on the coronavirus’ impact on Canadian immigration, refer to this page.

Request more information about work permits in Canada

Need assistance with the Temporary Work Permit application process? Contact

© 2020 CIC News All Rights Reserved

Share this article
Share your voice
Did you find this article helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Did you find this article helpful?
Please provide a response
Thank you for your helpful feedback
Please contact us if you would like to share additional feedback, have a question, or would like Canadian immigration assistance.
  • Do you need Canadian immigration assistance? Contact the Contact Cohen Immigration Law firm by completing our form
  • Send us your feedback or your non-legal assistance questions by emailing us at
Related articles
Study finds more newcomers are considering moving to escape housing costs
Typical homes in Canada
British Columbia and Manitoba invite PNP candidates in latest draws
BC and Manitoba have invited candidates in latest PNP draws.
Two Canadian cities among the most livable in the world, as Toronto drops out of the top 10
A view of the sunset in Calgary at a lake.
16 interesting facts about Canada to celebrate Canada Day
A Canadian flag blows majestically in the wind.
Top Stories
8 Tips for the Listening Component of your CELPIP Test
IRCC proposes amendments that require students to re-apply for a study permit if they change schools in Canada
New data suggests growing demand for temporary foreign workers in several Canadian industries
Join our free newsletter. Get Canada's top immigration stories delivered to your inbox.
More in Work
New data suggests growing demand for temporary foreign workers in several Canadian industries
This illustrates the continuation of an upward trend – save for 2020, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic – that has persisted since at least 2016.
Finding your first job as an international graduate in Canada 
candidate's waiting for a job interview in an office.
Six frequently asked questions about Canadian work permits
A group of working professionals, in an office building.
Why IRCC may refuse your application for a post-graduation work permit
Female entrepreneur working using laptop looking at camera.
Link copied to clipboard