Evidence of meeting #11 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was question.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Marian Campbell Jarvis  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Matt de Vlieger  Director General, Immigration, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Louis Dumas  Acting Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Jonathan Wallace  Director General, Temporary Foreign Workers Program, Department of Employment and Social Development
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Marc-Olivier Girard

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you.

Seed corn growers in Ontario are having a difficult time this year finding enough labour domestically, in part due to the Canada emergency student benefit acting as a disincentive to work. As well, corn growers aren't able to use TFWs because their commodity is not on the national commodity list.

They've requested that seed corn be added to the national commodity list. Is this being looked into, and is this something that the government supports?

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Was that for anyone in particular, Ms. Rood?

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

No.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Ms. Jarvis, do you want to answer that question?

3:20 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Marian Campbell Jarvis

I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. That's a question I will have to look into and follow up on. I'm not familiar with the state of where we're at in terms of additions to the commodity list.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you. If you could get back to the committee on that, that would be great.

My understanding is that there's an agri-food immigration pilot program and there is currently no nomination or certificate of acceptance that is part of the process, which is needed for all other immigration permanent residence. Stakeholders have requested that this be added so that workers can receive a certificate from the agri-food immigration pilot and that it can be sent to the TFWP. The reason is that, otherwise, farm workers and butchers would all have to have LMIA renewals while they are in the pilot process, making it redundant. More importantly, it's time-consuming, confusing and expensive for IRCC, ESDC and the employer.

The other issue is that butchers will not come out of the cap calculation for meat processing employers on the TFWP side unless there is a certificate. Why is there no nomination or certificate of acceptance as part of the agri-food immigration pilot project? Was this an oversight and will it be remediated to follow either the express entry or the provincial nominee program as the model for the nomination certificate process?

May 22nd, 2020 / 3:20 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Marian Campbell Jarvis

Mr. Chair, thank you for the question.

I'm wondering if my colleague Matt de Vlieger can answer some of the details there, please.

3:20 p.m.

Director General, Immigration, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Matt de Vlieger

Yes, absolutely. The agri-food immigration pilot is a new program, just stood up last week, for permanent residency. Unlike provincial nominee programs, there isn't a provincial role in terms of a nomination step. That's the role that nomination certificate plays there.

In the agriculture and agri-food immigration pilot, the applicants themselves, the workers who have that year of work experience, of full-time, non-seasonal employment, put in the application, and then the notice that is required happens as part of the immigration process. Once they get their final decision and they're through their application for permanent residence, and then their confirmation of permanent residence, all of those documents are part of the process like every other program.

The member might be referring a little to the interplay with the cap. Once an employer has a worker on their farm or in their meat production facility, we've heard from stakeholders that they would then like to have an additional position within the temporary foreign worker program. I know that's something my colleagues from Employment and Social Development Canada are looking into.

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Continuing on here, due to COVID-19 the applicants can't be expected to have their relatives stand in line at the village high schools and institutions in the city to get what's needed. The education assessment company has unopened envelopes and cannot access these unopened envelopes because their staff is self-isolating as per instructions.

Many workers have their high school certificates with them. Would IRCC approve adjusting the authentication process required by the assessment company? I understand that it would only require a change in wording to read “assessment based on documents submitted by applicant”. If IRCC would accept the definition, then workers would be able to proceed this year if they have their documents and cannot get them from their institutions, uploading them to the education assessment company's website.

The other option would be to waive the assessment process this year. Is IRCC considering either option in light of the challenges of the COVID pandemic as presented?

3:25 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Marian Campbell Jarvis

Thank you for the question.

Perhaps I'll just speak a little about the educational aspects. One of the points that are important to note is that with these pilots and bringing in people to the country, we actually want to position them for success, and we want to ensure that people are able to establish and settle here. That is part of the rationale and the thinking behind maintaining the educational requirements.

In terms of the processing and facilitating—

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

We're actually out of time, so we'll have to move on but perhaps you'll have a chance to answer later on.

Go ahead, Mr. Blois, for five minutes.

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses for their participation today in the committee.

I want to start by giving a little bit of context. In my riding of Kings—Hants, we have an important agricultural sector. It's the underpinning of the local economy. Really, the minister alluded to it but perhaps I'll ask you, Louis. As I understand it, you're the director of operations within the department. From my understanding, we as a government have basically put most barriers or any barriers at all out of the way, but in terms of bringing the workers in, we are seeing challenges in some of the countries of origin where these workers are coming from.

Can you explain some of the challenges in countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and others that you're seeing in terms of the actual logistics of just getting these workers into the country?

3:25 p.m.

Louis Dumas Acting Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Thank you for that interesting question.

Indeed, there are some major impediments in certain countries. In Mexico, for example, where we have a big processing centre for Central America and South America, just the fact that we have to deal with the ministry of labour in Mexico, which is facing its own challenges—working with reduced staff, for example—has been quite demanding on our teams. I have to salute our teams for the efforts they've made to find resolutions in that relationship.

Also, the minister has spoken a bit about the visitor application centres, which are a crucial part of the equation when you work overseas. They receive applications. Because the visitor application centres, or VACs, as we call them, have been closed for a number of weeks now, it has been a real challenge to process them. Nonetheless, we've been able to move a high number of people from Mexico and Guatemala to Canada. It has been at the cost of great efforts, but required, knowing full well the reality here in Canada.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I appreciate that insight.

I know, in speaking with my farmers locally and as you've alluded, that we've tried to move mountains, at least domestically. Sometimes that's just the nature of a global pandemic. Ms. Rood mentioned that in the seasonal agricultural worker program, SAWP, we've received only 78% of the workers. I think those numbers are pretty strong, all things considered.

It was discussed in the committee, but for the benefit of those who might be watching and those tuning in to our committee proceedings, perhaps Mr. Dumas or Ms. Jarvis can clarify that it's not the Government of Canada that's bringing these workers here, but organizations such as F.A.R.M.S. Canada, or FERME in Quebec, and others that work with industry to get the workers here.

Sometimes it says, “we as a government”, but really this is private industry bringing them in. We're just creating the channels to make sure that they're processed. Is that correct?

3:30 p.m.

Acting Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Louis Dumas

Mr. Chair, I could take the question.

Indeed, there is a role for IRCC overseas, working in the embassy. I will use the example of Mexico again. We're working very closely with recruiters, local recruiters and the ministry of labour. When work permits are authorized and issued, it then comes under the responsibility of the recruiters and the organizations to bring those individuals to Canada.

We've been able as well to waive certain requirements, such as biometrics, and work very closely with our colleagues at the Canada Border Services Agency to collect those biometrics here in Canada, so there has been good co-operation, and I would say, with the industry as well.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I appreciate that. Certainly we know the logistical challenges of travel at this point.

My next question, quickly, is to Mr. Wallace on the economic and social development side.

Ms. Rood talked about audits, and I know that would be under the purview of Service Canada, but she talked about some of the social distancing rules. My understanding is that is 100% determined by the provincial governments and their own public health authorities. Obviously, we set guidelines, but it's the provinces that actually have the ability to influence. Is that correct?

3:30 p.m.

Jonathan Wallace Director General, Temporary Foreign Workers Program, Department of Employment and Social Development

Yes, provinces do set their requirements. At the same time, at the federal level, the Minister of Immigration recently implemented regulatory amendments that set federal requirements as well. One of those requirements is that employers of temporary foreign workers abide by all provincial or territorial public health laws related to COVID-19, so that's one piece in particular.

The regulations also have requirements for employers who provide accommodations to workers. For example, the workers who are in quarantine have to be housed separately from those who are not. In addition, any worker who gets sick or exhibits signs or symptoms of COVID-19 at any time must be isolated from other workers. Those are some of the other ones.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Wallace, and thank you, Mr. Blois.

We'll go now to Mr. Barlow.

Go ahead. You have five minutes.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Thanks, Mr. Chair. I may split my time, but thank you very much.

I just want to go back to this. We've had some discussion about the accurate numbers out there, and maybe the officials could give us some better insight.

The minister was saying that we are around 86% of the workers who were expected to be here in April, but when we were talking with our stakeholders, the comments we were getting was that the government is using statistics that do not reflect the actual situation on the ground.

For example, I think the minister mentioned today that, in the month of April, Canada received about 10,000 workers compared with 13,000 in the year previously. At first glance, I think that would look fairly good, given this current landscape and the situation we're facing. However, what we're hearing from our stakeholders—and certainly from producers on the ground—is that they're not getting those numbers. It's actually quite a bit lower, and the numbers the government is using include the workers who should have come or who were in the process of coming but haven't arrived.

When we look at what I mentioned with Ontario being at a much higher number than Quebec at 50% and B.C. at only 54%, I'm wondering if the officials could give us the accurate numbers for the workers who have arrived in Canada. What is the outlook for May and June?

There's not a lot of excitement to answer that question.

3:35 p.m.

Acting Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Louis Dumas

I apologize. I was on mute.

I'll go over some rough statistics, and we can provide more defined statistics if required. The number of work permits for the month of March was indeed lower. There were approximately 3,000 fewer than for the same period in 2019. In April it was roughly the same, a little lower, with between 11,000 and 13,000. We are tracking a little behind. However, rest assured, Mr. Chair, that folks overseas are making every effort to prioritize the seasonal agricultural worker applications.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Mr. Dumas, do those numbers—when you say work permits—stipulate workers who have actually arrived in Canada, or is that just permits that have been approved?

3:35 p.m.

Acting Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Louis Dumas

Those are permits that have been confirmed, meaning those are individuals who have arrived in Canada.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Great. Thank you. I appreciate that.

I will share my time with Ms. Rood, who had some other questions as well.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you very much. I just want to give Ms. Campbell the opportunity to finish answering the previous question.

If you need me to ask that again, I can go ahead.

3:35 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Marian Campbell Jarvis

I think I recall most of the question. It was regarding what facilitation arrangements we're making to process, and you were also speaking about the educational requirements for the pilot.

In terms of some of the facilitation, we have undertaken quite a few measures to support the processing. I should actually probably turn to my colleague Louis to answer that part of the question, though.