Island farmers relieved temporary foreign workers allowed to enter Canada

Some Island farmers who rely on temporary foreign workers are breathing a sigh of relief this week after a decision by the federal government to continue allowing those workers into the country. 

Border restrictions imposed by the federal government last week, aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19, had many in the agriculture and fisheries industries concerned they'd be facing a major labour shortage this spring. 

"We would've lost an awful lot of our crop. The workforce is just not available here in Canada," said Alvin Keenan, co-owner of Rollo Bay Holdings in Souris.

He relies on about temporary foreign workers from Mexico and Guatemala to help harvest and package potatoes. 

"So this is a huge relief."

The federal government's border restrictions, announced last Monday, barred entry to all travellers who are not Canadian or permanent residents, with the exception of Americans, flight crew members and diplomats. 

But on Friday, Ottawa added temporary foreign workers to that list. 

That means hundreds of foreign workers will still be able to work on P.E.I. this spring, many of them at Island farms and fish processing plants.


Robert Godfrey, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, said in his industry alone, about 400 temporary foreign workers are expected here next month. That's about eight per cent of the workforce. 

"We're just very happy, very pleased to see the government has found a way to keep people safe, as well as to ensure we get our employees," Godfrey said.

"The common sense approach seems to have won the day."

'An essential service' 

Godfrey said the COVID-19 pandemic still has many Island farmers concerned about the season ahead. 

Shane Hennessey/CBC

From the possibility of farmers and their workers contracting the virus, to the potential for further border restrictions limiting transport, he said there's reason to be worried. 

"Agriculture is very much an essential service at this point in time," Godfrey said. 

"You go to a grocery store, you've got to make sure there's product there. So we're doing everything we can to keep people safe." 

Godfrey said farmers and their workers are taking extra measures to limit their risk of exposure, like frequent handwashing and staying at least six feet back from other workers, as much as possible. 

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More from CBC P.E.I.