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Canada’s Seasonal Workers Program (SAWP)

December 20, 2019

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) has been admitting Caribbean workers since 1966 and Mexican workers since 1974 to fill jobs on Canadian farms when Canadian workers are not available. Procedures to recruit workers and to protect them while they are employed abroad are spelled out in government-to-government MOUs and employer-worker contracts.

Most of the SAWP workers are from Mexico and Jamaica, although Canadian farmers may also recruit in other Caribbean countries. About three-fourths of SAWP workers are Mexicans. Between 1974 and 2017, some 351,869 Mexican workers were employed in Canadian agriculture, including some who returned year-after-year.

Farmers begin the SAWP process by trying to recruit Canadian workers offering the higher of the minimum (C$14 an hour in Ontario in 2019) or the prevailing wage for the job in question. If efforts to recruit Canadian workers fail, and the government determines that the presence of SAWP workers will not depress the wages of similar Canadian farm workers, farmers are certified by Service Canada to recruit SAWP workers by promising them at least 240 hours of farm work for at least six weeks of work.

SAWP workers may stay in Canada up to eight months, and they stay an average 22 weeks or 5.5 months, often working 60 to 70 hours a week. About 2,000 Canadian farms hire SAWP workers. Canadian farmers specify by name over three-fourths of the SAWP workers they hire, and rely on non-profit organizations to transport SAWP workers to Canada: FARMS in Ontario and FERME in Quebec (SAWP workers are employed in nine provinces). If farmers do not name the workers they want to hire, the Mexico and Jamaican Departments of Labor maintain lists of workers who would like to be selected to work in Canada.

Farmers and workers sign contracts that spell out wages, working conditions and deductions. Most farmers advance the cost of airfare and visas and deduct some travel and other costs from workers' wages. Employers must enroll SAWP workers in provincial health insurance programs, and SAWP workers and their employers pay premiums for the (un)employment insurance program. Employers offer free housing to SAWP workers on their farms that is inspected by Canadian authorities before workers arrive and by government liaison agents from Jamaica and Mexico after workers arrive. Some provinces allow farmers to at least partially recoup the cost of housing.

Farmers evaluate each SAWP worker at the end of the season. SAWP workers are required to present their employer’s evaluation to a government agency at home to be selected for the next season. Farmers and farm organizations can blacklist particular workers and not hire them in the future, and government agencies in sending countries can blacklist particular Canadian famers and not approve sending workers to them.

Farmers can also hire foreign workers under the agricultural stream of the Pilot Project for Occupations Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training (NOC C&D Pilot), a unilateral program that offers fewer protections for guest workers. The SAWP and the agricultural stream are limited to fruits, vegetables, horticultural crops, tobacco and sod, while the agricultural stream is open to all farm employers, including livestock producers.

The agricultural stream for temporary foreign farm workers began in 2002 and admitted 7,100 workers in 2013 (NOC 8431, 8432, 8611, 8251, 8252, 8254, 8256), mostly Guatemalans employed by Quebec farmers. Foreigners admitted under the SAWP can return to Canada indefinitely, while foreigners admitted under the agricultural stream can stay in Canada up to 24 months.

The agricultural stream expanded much faster than the SAWP between 2002 and 2013. Since 2014, data on SAWP and agricultural stream admissions have been combined. Employers of both types of workers require positive Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) from Service Canada, and the number of positive LMIAs rose to almost 70,000 in 2017, when SAWP and agricultural stream admissions topped 48,000.

The differences between the SAWP and the agricultural stream are summarized in the graphic below. The major differences include where workers can be recruited, how long they can remain in Canada, and whether foreign workers can fill seasonal or nonseasonal jobs.

Canada has had a rapid increase in foreign workers over the past decade; the stock of foreign workers doubled between 2005 and 2017 to over 300,000. The number of foreign agricultural workers expanded even faster, from less than 22,000 in 2005 to over 48,000 in 2017, including SAWP and agricultural stream admissions.

SAWP and NOC C&D admissions and LMIAs for primary agriculture, 2002-17
SAWP data after 2013 include primary ag admissions

SAWP and NOC C&D admissions and LMIAs for primary agriculture, 2002-17
SAWP data after 2013 include primary ag admissions
Year Admissions
SAWP*
Admissions
NOC Primary Ag
LMIAs
Primary Ag
2002 18,622 123
2003 18,698 341
2004 19,049 430
2005 20,282 877
2006 21,253 2,231
2007 22,571 3,170
2008 24,188 4,513
2009 23,386 4,844
2010 23,933 5,161
2011 24,693 6,209 37,945
2012 25,710 6,632 40,271
2013 27,566 7,099 45,361
2014 40,033 47,474
2015 43,394 53,298
2016 41,881 54,260
2017 47,166 60,578
2002-13 48% 5672% 69,775
2010-13 15% 38%
2013-17 18% 28%
*2014-17 data include SAWP and NOC primary ag admissions
Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/foreign-workers/reports/overhaul.html#h2.1-3.1
Positive Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) 

SAWP versus agricultural stream foreign workers


Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/foreign-workers/reports/primary-agriculture.html

The number of temporary ag workers rose 242 percent between 2004 and 2017, faster than the overall increase in temporary foreign workers

The number of temporary ag workers rose 242 percent between 2004 and 2017, faster than the overall increase in temporary foreign workers
Year Agricultural Workers * Live-in Caregivers Other Higher-Skilled / High-Wage Other Lower-Skilled / Low-Wage Temporary Foreign Worker Program (LMO/LMIA Exempt) International Mobility Program (LMO/LMIA Exempt) Total Temporary Work Permit Holders
2004 19,880 16,670 31,124 2,753 70,471 66,757 137,228
2005 21,867 18,889 33,211 3,086 77,131 72,689 149,820
2006 24,328 22,526 36,573 4,572 88,281 81,312 169,593
2007 27,996 29,577 44,009 12,656 116,587 97,407 213,994
2008 31,468 23,281 48,788 25,002 131,414 118,608 250,022
2009 30,929 20,057 41,559 18,280 114,387 121,744 236,131
2010 31,761 17,114 40,540 16,349 109,506 138,432 247,938
2011 33,862 16,721 42,347 19,957 116,452 159,568 276,020
2012 35,035 12,707 47,117 22,715 117,522 173,676 291,198
2013 37,794 11,043 44,863 25,416 118,446 193,381 311,827
2014 39,452 11,822 26,423 16,721 94,621 194,160 288,781
2015 40,096 7,389 19,469 5,995 73,040 176,168 249,206
2016 45,185 7,787 19,727 5,878 38,535 208,582 287,117
2017 48,095 3,320 ** ** 78,788 224,033 302,821
Factor of Change (2017/2004) 2.42 0.2 .63 * 2.14 * 1.12 3.36 2.21
Sources: CIC 2014, tables 3.1, 3.2; IRCC 2016c, tables 3.1, 3.2; IRCC 2018a, 29; IRCC 2018b.
* This category includes SAWP participants as well as participants in the Streams for Other High-skilled/High-wage and Other Low-skilled/Low-wage positions in agriculture.
** 2017 data unavailable for Other High-Skilled and Other Lower-Skilled subcategories of TFWP.