New Brunswick to lift ban on temporary foreign workers

Damage 'already been done' for farmers, NFU-NB says

A flat of young vegetable plant seedlings outside of a greenhouse, waiting to be transplanted, at a farm in rural New Brunswick

New Brunswick plans to end its ban on the entry of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) next week as the province moves to the “yellow” level in its COVID-19 pandemic recovery plan.

The ban, announced April 28, will end effective May 29, Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday in an announcement some farmers say comes too late for them and the TFWs they planned to import.

Under the “yellow level” plan Higgs outlined Friday, TFWs may enter New Brunswick under “strict public health guidance,” including isolating for 14 days before beginning work.

Ottawa had already put the 14-day isolation requirement in place for all TFWs under their exemption from the federal government’s March 21 ban on foreign nationals entering Canada.

“We are still prioritizing the safety of New Brunswickers but, as we restart our economy, we also have to find ways to meet the needs of the agriculture and seafood sectors,” Higgs said Friday in a release.

“After consulting with the experts, including public health authorities, we have determined that the risk to New Brunswickers is now low, as long as strict safety measures remain in place.”

The Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick, the province’s general farm organization, hailed the decision Friday, saying on Facebook that TFWs will “offer some much needed support and working hands to (New Brunswick) farmers.”

The National Farmers Union in New Brunswick (NFU-NB) said Friday it was “pleased that the province has recognized the necessity” of TFWs, but added “damage has already been done to production in the 2020 growing season.”

Some affected New Brunswick farmers will now have to re-apply for TFWs, who may have either found other jobs or seen their visas cancelled, NFU-NB said on Facebook.

“This, when added to the mandatory quarantine period, means they won’t be working in our fields for a month at the earliest.”

Affected farms “should be compensated for their losses due to the ban and delays in getting their workers,” NFU-NB said Friday.

In a joint release May 4, the two groups said having to try and train new workers to replace experienced TFWs during the “most crucial” time of the year “jeopardizes production and harvests.”

TFWs, they said, have “knowledge and expertise that they have developed over the years” plus “a physical capacity that comes from this lengthy experience in farming.”

“Our members hire people from their communities every year,” AANB president Lisa Ashworth said in that release. “The sad fact is that for many of these people the experience does not last long when they realize the physical demands of the job and the complexity of the tasks. It has nothing to do with the idealized version of working in the wild that some imagine.”

Higgs had said in late April that TFWs are normally welcome for their “important role in New Brunswick’s continued economic growth… (but) right now, the risk of allowing more people to enter the province is simply too great.”

At just one active case, 120 recoveries and zero deaths from the start of the pandemic through to Friday evening, New Brunswick’s total COVID-19 caseload remains the second lowest of the 10 Canadian provinces.

Eligible businesses that choose to reopen during the yellow phase “must prepare an operational plan that can be provided to officials, if requested,” the province said Friday. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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