Politics & Policies, Report

Temporary Agricultural Workers in Canada – How to strengthen programs with the arrival of large numbers of Central Americans

The arrival of large numbers of Central Americans at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years and the complex motivations driving them to leave their countries has once more demonstrated the need for comprehensive strategies to manage migration through the region. The lion’s share of these migrants come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and poverty, food insecurity, and limited livelihood opportunities are among the forces pushing many to migrate. Central Americans have access to few legal migration pathways, but expanding them could promote safer, legal movement in the region and potentially reduce border pressures.

Temporary worker programs are a promising alternative to some irregular migration. The circularity built into these programs is often attractive to both destination countries seeking a reliable but nonpermanent pool of labor to fill shortages in key industries and to participating workers who wish to earn money abroad while remaining rooted in their origin communities.

The United States is the intended destination for many Central Americans, and prior MPI research has outlined ways to better leverage U.S. temporary work programs, but similar opportunities also exist in other countries. This report looks at how Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica could use their employment-based visa programs to expand alternatives to irregular migration for Central Americans and at the same time address pressing labor needs. It examines the challenges these programs have faced to date, including in recruitment processes and worker protections, that should be addressed.

Promising Policy Options for Canada

To strengthen programs, the Canadian and Central American governments could adopt a series of policies that build on recent efforts to address employer and worker challenges. These include the following:
► Use the SAWP’s management protocols as a model to strengthen the structure of the TGWP
and future temporary work programs focused on recruiting Central Americans. These present and future channels should adopt the SAWP’s model of hosting yearly stakeholder meetings to allow Canadian officials, worker and employer group representatives, and consular officials to address employment and labor issues before workers arrive in Canada at the start of the season. In addition to improving a program’s management, these meetings can help address potential issues with recruiters operating in origin countries and refine predeparture orientation practices for program participants.
► Create multiyear TFWP visas that allow Canadian employers to retain the same worker without having to submit a LMIA every year. Although the Canadian government has introduced temporary- to-permanent pilot programs, in part to address these LMIA issues, creating this type of visa could help mitigate the costs of filing LMIAs for the same temporary worker over multiple seasons. The Canadian government could offer this visa to employers who comply with the program’s requirements and do not receive major complaints from their workers. Relatedly, Canadian policymakers should consider whether to ask employers to file a narrower set of documents to maintain this visa after each season, including proof of compliance with the program’s provisions and ongoing need for foreign workers.
► Invest in creating a trusted employer and recruiter program. The Canadian government allows migrants to seek agricultural jobs on the Canadian Job Bank website, a portal where workers can look for a range of positions from Canadian employers who complete a registration process to post these positions. In addition to gradually incorporating use of the Canadian Job Bank website into the TFWP, the Canadian government could consider setting additional requirements for employers who register to contract temporary workers, creating a listing of vetted employers. These requirements could include disclosing information on any entities used for recruitment in workers’ countries of origin, and the Canadian government could then verify their information with each country’s embassy or consulate.
The Canadian government should also consider creating a recruiter registration program for entities that want to contract workers in Central America for the TFWP. Currently, provinces such as British Columbia and Manitoba have laws that require recruiters to register with the provincial agencies that govern these entities or receive licenses before recruiting migrant workers. The federal government could create its own version and explore how it can work with regional governments to assess the recruitment activities of these entities. However, if a federal program is created, its architects should aim to allow recruiters and employers to submit a core set of documents to both the federal and provincial programs to reduce redundancies in the registration process.
► Harmonize the labor enforcement regime in Canada. Although the structure of labor rights enforcement in Canada presents a challenge to providing migrant workers with consistent levels
of protection across the country, federal and provincial authorities should explore how they can establish more consistent labor protections around the right of recruitment. Provinces could also adopt their own laws overseeing recruiters if the federal government does not do so. The monitoring of occupational health standards on farms, as an area of labor law enforcement that falls under federal jurisdiction, could be one avenue where the federal government can expand the scope of its compliance work.

Many of these recommendations apply whether the Canadian government pursues the path of reforming its existing temporary worker programs or creating new ones that allow workers greater flexibility to move between employers. A trusted employer program as the foundation for a job-listing platform and closer cooperation with the governments of countries of origin would provide Central American workers with better information about their migration options, serving both their needs and those of Canadian employers.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @  Research: Temporary Worker Programs in Canada, Mex.. | migrationpolicy.org


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