Biometric information requirements for foreign temporary farm workers in Canada, introduced last year, are considered a success, according to the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association. (Contributed)

‘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 area 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, which 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 the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association’s Glen Lucas about the new requirements.

“Everyone worked really hard 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 get 10-year permits and do not needed to re-apply under 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 the biometric information will allow for the smooth return of workers each year and shows that the program is very desirable for them.

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Seasonal workers coming to Okanagan farms mostly help in the cherry and apple markets, but the B.C. Fruit Growers Association also helps liaise workers with the local grape growers as well.

Lucas said the entire agriculture industry in B.C. relies on seasonal workers because the number of Canadian workers, usually from Quebec, has dropped over the past few years.

The BCFGA expects a fluid start to the spring and to the season and and says it 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 the investment in the workers increases the work rate and worker satisfaction.”

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