WINDSOR, Ont. — The Canadian government’s approach to temporary foreign workers provides an avenue for illegal immigration, according to Mexico’s ambassador to Canada.
Franciso Suárez Dávila said the long-standing Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program is better.
Unlike the “low-skilled” stream of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, SAWP is an arrangement between two governments that provides protections for workers and their Canadian employers.
“It’s a better program. It’s better for the Mexican workers and I think it’s better for the Canadian employers and the government,” Dávila said.
“This is a win-win situation. It is a very particular situation here in Canada. There is not the labour force for these kind of jobs.”
Stan Raper of the United Food and Commercial Workers union is highly critical of both SAWP and low-skilled programs, but said SAWP at least provides worker safeguards. He said the UFCW has documented several cases in the Windsor-Leamington area in which agricultural workers in the low-skilled program had left their positions to join Canada’s underground workforce.
“They’re basically becoming undocumented,” he said.
Dávila and Raper’s comments came after the federal government announced changes to the TFWP June 20.
George Gilvesy, general manager of Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, said most temporary foreign workers working in Ontario greenhouses have been hired through SAWP.
Approximately 3,000 Mexican SAWP employees work in the Leamington area. SAWP workers also come to Canada from Jamaica and other Caribbean nations.
Gilvesy said the greenhouse industry needs both the low-skilled and SAWP programs.
“From what I’ve been told and what I’ve read, agriculture is exempt of the changes, regardless of which program is involved,” he said.
Dávila said SAWP has worked well since Canada and Mexico signed an agreement 40 years ago. The maximum stay allowed under the program is eight months, although workers can return to Canada, year after year.
“This way the workers have a chance to go back home to see their families and to invest their savings. Some go back to build a house or buy a farm,” Dávila said.
“There are many who’ve been going back and forth for years. We met one worker who’s been coming to Canada for 33 years.”
Dávila said there’s less interest among Mexicans for jobs in the United States and Canada since Mexico’s economy started improving. The movement of workers into the U.S., both legal and illegal, has slowed since 2010, and a surprising number of families are returning to Mexico, he said.
Raper said the entire TFWP should be abolished in favour of immigration. The federal government isn’t interested, he added, but there are things provincial governments can do.
Temporary foreign workers can be selected under the Provincial Nominee Program for a process that will lead to Canadian citizenship. Alberta and Manitoba have an annual cap of 10,000 for the program, but in Ontario the cap is just 1,000.
Manitoba has also implemented the Worker Recruitment and Protection Act to better manage TFWP in that province, Raper said.
Workers are registered and employers are bonded, he added.