Some COVID-stranded migrant workers finally flying home to Trinidad

·3 min read

Trapped for months in Southwestern Ontario by COVID-19 travel restrictions in their Caribbean homeland, some migrant farmworkers from Trinidad and Tobago will finally fly home Friday.

But many are opting to stay put, hoping to avoid a catch-22: not being able to return to Canada to work in the spring when the next growing season begins.

“It’s been a really long ordeal . . . some people have been waiting for months,” said Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services, a non-profit that helps co-ordinate processing requests for foreign seasonal workers. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be stranded here.”

Ongoing COVID-19 travel woes with the border-locked Caribbean nation stranded nearly 400 Trinidadian migrant workers in Ontario late last year.

A flight home is set for Friday, with more workers having received travel exemptions required by Trinidad and Tobago that before were few and far between.

Schuyler Farms near Simcoe employs about 100 Trinidadian workers, and until this week, few had made it home.

Owner Brett Schuyler said 18 of his workers — all those who want to — will be on this week’s flight back.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “Everyone just has to get their (COVID-19) tests done, have a negative result, and it should all come together, which I’m very glad for.”

Trinidad requires workers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their flight.

Schuyler said the workers were left in limbo for months, awaiting word from Trinidad on flights home and whether they'd get travel exemptions.

But despite the option to head home, about 70 Trinidadian workers at Schuyler Farmers are staying put.

“Some of the reasoning behind the group that stayed is out of fear of not getting back to Canada,” Schuyler said. “Last spring, people that were set to come up in March didn’t end up coming until July. This fall, people trying to get home, there are huge delays again.”

Canada’s new requirement that incoming travellers show a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of their flight also could be a “potential hurdle” for returning workers, Schuyler said.

Last month, Ontario extended health-care coverage and provided financial aid to the stranded migrant workers.

Immigrant, Refugees and Citizenship Canada enacted a temporary public policy, in effect until Feb. 21, to let stranded workers apply for temporary status, get a six-month open work permit and be eligible for employment insurance.

Forth couldn't estimate how many Trinidadian migrant workers were still stranded in Ontario as of late January, as small numbers have flown out since December.

After Friday's flight to Trinidad and Tobago, only one more will be needed to get the rest of those who want to go, back home, he said. No date has been confirmed for that flight.

“At the first of December, there was no light at the end of the tunnel, now they will get home,” Forth said. “I feel for the people too because the unknown was the big problem.”

maxmartin@postmedia.com

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Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press