Farmer plans to help migrant workers apply for permanent residency

·4 min read

WILMOT TOWNSHIP— Jenn Pfenning of Pfennings Organic Farm says she’s already preparing to help her employees with the paperwork to apply for permanent residency in Canada.

The federal government announced last week it will be granting permanent residency status for at least 90,000 international graduates and essential workers — including agricultural workers.

“I am delighted to see this,” says Pfenning. She runs Pfennigs Organic Farm in New Hamburg, which employs about 32 migrant workers. She says some of her employees have been working for her since 2005.

Though the announcement is still fresh, she guesses at least a dozen of her workers will apply, and she is ready and excited to help them with the paperwork.

“Along with many others, I have been saying that these workers have been essential for a very long time,” says Pfenning. “It took a pandemic for most people to recognize that.”

The federal government’s release said, “These special public policies will grant permanent status to temporary workers and international graduates who are already in Canada and who possess the skills and experience we need to fight the pandemic and accelerate our economic recovery.”

Applications will be accepted from May 6 until November 5, 2021.

The breakdown of how many permanent residence applications will be granted includes:

20,000 applications for temporary workers in health care;

30,000 applications for temporary workers in other selected essential occupations;

40,000 applications for international students who graduated from a Canadian institution.

Some main requirements to apply include:

At least a year’s worth of full-time hours worked within the last three years;

Canadian Language Benchmarks level 4 reached in at least one of the two official languages;

Have temporary resident status and be physically present in Canada when applying;

Intend to reside in any province or territory other than Quebec.

Pfenning says she feels the application requirements are appropriate. She notes applicants do not need a Grade 12 education, which many seasonal agricultural workers do not have.

She also notes that applicants need to have worked at least one year’s worth of full-time hours in total. This allows migrant workers who may not have spent a year continuously in Canada but have accumulated at least a year’s worth of work to apply.

Pfennigs feels the language requirement is attainable, though it could be problematic for some workers who don’t speak English or French.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union is a leading advocate for migrant workers’ rights in Canada. The group releases a report on the status of migrant farm workers in Canada each year.

The group points out that the language requirement could unfairly discriminate against some migrant workers. The language requirement will, “exclude many hard-working temporary foreign workers who, if given the opportunity to immigrate and improve their English over time, would make excellent citizens who are fully dedicated to strengthening the food sector and the country as a whole,” reads a statement.

Also, if the federal government’s announcement is simply a one time offer to “backfill gaps in annual immigration targets,” then the main problems with Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program will continue, says Paul Meinema, Canada National President of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. These issues include abuses such as withholding pay or providing inadequate food and lodging, for which temporary foreign workers have no realistic way to seek justice.

The government’s announcement stated this is a special policy with no mention of continuation past November 2021.

One major drawback is that the program will be vastly oversubscribed, says Pfenning. There will be far more than 30,000 who apply, she says.

Other workers who qualify include cashiers, shelf stockers, people in the trades, and truck drivers — to name a few out of the dozens of occupations listed.

“The ripple effect will be enormous,” says Pfenning. She speaks about her how some of the men on her farm have children who have grown up with their fathers missing for virtually half their lives.

“Imagine if the parent leaves for eight months, the kids could come and live here. Go to school here. How would that change the world?”

“We as a country are acknowledging the value of the people who have been doing these jobs and acknowledging that there is a place for them here in our country as equal citizens,” says Pfenning.

Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email lgerber@therecord.com

Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record