Farmer plans to help migrant workers apply for permanent residency

Jenn Pfenning

NEW HAMBURG— 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  believe that 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.”

In a news release, the federal govenment 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 will apply, she says.

“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.