Thank you, Mr. Chair, and to the members of the committee, good afternoon.
Thank you for the opportunity to offer these remarks and to answer your questions about the significant contributions of temporary foreign workers on our farms, at our processing plants, and at all points in Canada's food supply chain. This often-overlooked group of migrant workers has long served to ensure that Canadians may continue to enjoy food that is safe, healthy and affordable. That remains especially true today as we continue to confront COVID-19. Indeed, the work we are doing at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been a vital lifeline to our food security, health care system and economy as we continue to effectively manage this global pandemic and flatten the curve.
Before I go any further, I first want to express our ongoing gratitude to health care workers, as well as Canadian farmers, food business leaders and workers, both domestic and from abroad, for everything you are doing to keep us healthy and to preserve access to high-quality food at our grocery stores and kitchen tables. We say thank you.
Following the outbreak, my department has played a critically important role in the Government of Canada's response to COVID-19. Today I want to highlight the special measures we have put in place to support temporary foreign workers, farmers and industry leaders to sustain Canada's food security.
Our work in this area is done in close collaboration with federal branches, which are led by my ministerial colleagues at Agriculture and Agri-Food, at Employment and Social Development Canada and at Fisheries and Oceans.
To help contain the spread of COVID-19, the federal government introduced travel restrictions at the border, with targeted exemptions for essential travel, which includes temporary foreign workers. IRCC is principally responsible for the issuance of work permits to temporary foreign workers and the supporting regulatory framework, which is under my purview through the immigration and refugee protection regulations.
Since the beginning of the crisis, the government has prioritized work permit processing for critical occupations, including those in the agriculture and agrifood sectors.
To safeguard the continuity of trade, commerce, health and food security for all Canadians, we have implemented an exemption to our travel restrictions to allow these workers to enter Canada, so that our farms and food processing facilities can continue to provide for Canadians.
Since April, nearly 22,000 temporary foreign workers have arrived in Canada on charter flights to work in our agriculture and food industry.
While we are facilitating the entry of temporary workers into Canada, further supports are required once they arrive, and the government has made progress there, as well.
On April 13, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada announced $50 million to help all food production and processing employers put in place the measures necessary to follow the mandatory 14-day quarantine, required of all workers arriving from abroad.
We're also making better use of the workers who are already here. We've introduced additional strategies to address status restoration and to reduce timelines for documentation.
On May 12, my department announced a new public policy that cuts the time that it takes for temporary foreign workers to start a new job from 10 weeks or more down to 10 days or less. This will allow temporary workers who are already in Canada with an employer-specific work permit to quickly change jobs when they find a new one. It's a win-win situation.
Our government is working very closely with employers of temporary foreign workers to ensure that the 14-day quarantine period is respected once workers arrive in Canada and that appropriate accommodations and provisions are made available to allow workers to do their important work in planting and seeding.
To help enforce these new requirements across the board, a package of regulations came into force on April 20. Employers have a responsibility for the health of their workers as well as to public health generally. Employer associations continue to work collaboratively with the government to figure out how they can help fulfill both of these objectives. In addition to the measures we're taking in response to the immediate effects of COVID-19, we continue to plan for the future.
Immigration is an enduring value that I believe in and that I trust Canadians believe in too, and we will see that for a long time after COVID-19 is behind us. Just last week, IRCC opened applications under the agri-food pilot program. Over the last several years, industries such as meat processing, mushroom and greenhouse production, and livestock raising have experienced ongoing challenges in finding and keeping employees. The agri-food pilot aims to attract and retain workers in these industries by providing them with an opportunity to become permanent residents. As we work to reinvigorate our economy after the pandemic, these workers will play an important part in getting Canada back to business.
This is a three-year pilot that will test an approach to help employers in these areas fill ongoing labour needs for full-time, year-round work. It will provide a pathway to permanent residency for many temporary foreign workers already in Canada. A total of 2,750 applications will be accepted annually throughout the pilot, which applies primarily to people who are already here.
The success of our Canadian farmers and food processors depends on their ability to recruit and retain the workforce that they need. This pilot will help to ensure that farmers and processors have the much-needed skills, experience and labour so we can continue to strengthen Canada's food security, grow our economy and improve our living standards for all of Canada.
Mr. Chair, temporary foreign workers are of vital importance to our food security and our economy. They are critical to the success of our farms and our hospitals, and this is why we have made the exceptions to the travel restrictions and why we continue to work with our partners provincially and in the sector with farmers, doctors and others to ensure everyone has the support they need.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members. I'm now happy to take your questions.