Canada needs 30,000 immigrant farmers over the next decade to take over existing farm operations or to start their own farms, concludes an RBC report.
“In 10 years, 60 per cent of today’s farm operators will be over the age of 65. Never have so many Canadian farmers been so close to retirement. In addition, the number of operators below the age of 55 has declined by 54 per cent since 2001,” notes RBC in its report, Farmers Wanted: The Labour Renewal Canada Needs To Build The Next Green Revolution.
“The most immediate solution to this challenge rests at our borders. Providing permanent immigration status to over 24,000 general farm workers and 30,000 operators can assist in bridging retirement and staffing gaps, help the sector fulfill its productivity potential and meet domestic and foreign food demands.”
The latest data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reveals the Canadian agricultural sector is already increasingly turning towards immigration to resolve its labour shortages.
In 2022, Canada welcomed 970 new permanent residents who immigrated here to fill jobs in the agricultural sector, including 155 managers, 530 agricultural service contractors, farm supervisors and specialized livestock workers, and 285 general farm workers.
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That’s a 55.2 per cent spike in immigration of agricultural workers to Canada compared to the 625 new permanent residents who came to fill those types of jobs in 2021.
The surge in immigration to fill agricultural jobs in Canada is even up compared to pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, the last full year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada, there were 710 new permanent residents who came to Canada to fill these types of jobs, IRCC data reveals.
And the upward trend in agricultural immigration is only just starting.
In the first two months of this year, 320 new permanent residents came to Canada to fill such jobs, a rate of immigration to fill agricultural jobs that would result in 1,920 more farm workers in Canada if the trend were to continue throughout the rest of the year.
The need for workers to work on Canadian farms is at a crisis level, says RBC.
Labour Shortage In Canadian Agricultural Industry Is Among The Worst In The World
“Canada’s agricultural skills crisis is already one of the world’s worst,” states the report. “The country has one of the highest skills shortages in food production compared to other major food exporting nations-trailing only the U.S. and the Netherlands.”
The bank gives credit to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) as a valuable source of low-skilled labour which can provide some relief to farmers struggling to find farm workers.
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“But it has its disadvantages. First, it’s a provisional solution to a chronic issue,” notes RBC. “Second, many of these Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) who develop skills essential to Canadian seeding and harvests must return to their home countries for short periods.
“If they are unable to return to Canada (for reasons that can include their government barring the shift due to its own food security fears) then Canada’s on-farm workforce is dramatically reduced.”
In its report, RBC insists better policies are needed to enable the immigration of low-skilled labourers, including a possible pathway to permanent residency for experienced TFWs which would immediately address this type of shortage.
Temporary Work Permits And Study Permits Offer A Two-Step Approach To Canadian Immigration
Canada provides a two-step immigrant selection process which has become increasingly important in the last two decades.
In the first step, Canadian employers play a major role in recruiting and evaluating foreign residents employed in the Canadian labour market on a temporary basis, which can include work permit holders in the TFWP, work permitholders in the International Mobility Program (IMP), international students with employment and other employed temporary residents.
In the second step, the IRCC decides how many and which temporary foreign workers will be eligible for admission as permanent residents.