‘It’s been a great program’:New foreign worker requirements help Okanagan fruit industry

Biometric requirements began in late 2018, and will have long-term advantages for workers in Kelowna

With the start of spring inching closer, the Okanagan will soon welcome back close to 4,500 seasonal workers to B.C. farms.

It will be the second year since Canada implemented biometric information requirements for foreign workers and so far the program hasn’t caused any of the shortages or complications feared by the fruit industry that heavily relies on agricultural workers from Mexico and the Caribbean.

“It was certainly a bit of a scramble last year, but it worked well in the end,” said BC Fruit Growers’ Association’s Glen Lucas about the new requirements.

“Everyone worked really head to make it smooth including the federal government, Canadian Border Services and of course the Mexican government.”

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The new biometric information includes photos and fingerprints for workers looking for work in Canada. Once completed, workers have 10 year permits and are not needed to apply for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) each year.

For the near 80 per cent of workers who return each year, the addition of biometric information in the program will be beneficial for both B.C. farms and the workers.

“It’s been a great program,” said Lucas.

“Without the SAWP, we would have to downsize. The demanding physical and outdoor labour doesn’t get enough local workers.”

Lucas said that the biometric information will allow for the smooth return of workers each year and shows that the program is very desirable for the workers.

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Seasonal workers coming to Okanagan farms mostly help in the cherry and apple markets, but BC Fruit Growers also helps liaison workers with the local grape grower industry.

Lucas said that the entire agriculture industry in B.C. and the Okanagan relies on seasonal workers since the number of Canadian workers, usually from Quebec, has slowed down over the past few years.

BC Fruit Growers expect a fluid start to the spring and to the season and will continue to offer full-time safety and orientation for both Canadian and foreign workers.

“We want them to be successful and come back,” said Lucas.

“We find that that investment in the workers increase the work rate and worker satistfaction.”

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