For decades, Ontario’s agri-food sector has been dependent on migrant workers to fill in the gaps in its available workforce. Programs such as the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program Temporary Foreign Worker agricultural stream have become an essential and growing supply of labour for farmers who struggle to find sufficient numbers of local workers. Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this model has been disrupted. The interruption to international travel caused by the cancellation of flight routes, restrictions on foreign visitors, and mandatory quarantine orders for new arrival to Canada have resulted in many agricultural employers being unable to receive migrant workers on time or at all. The economic and social impacts of this event on the agri-food sector, migrant workers, and rural communities is something that we seek to understand.
This research initiative, funded in partnership with Mitacs and the Ontario Cooperative Association, examine these impacts through key informant interviews with agricultural employers and migrant workers. Key research concerns include the financial impacts of COVID-19 on both of these groups, changes to worker recruitment and farm management strategies, and the future of migrant labour in Ontario agriculture.