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Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program

SAWP, which originated in 1967, is a government to government program structured through bilateral Memorandum of Understandings between Mexico and various Caribbean countries and Canada. The program is largely facilitated through a private sector organization in Canada called FARMS. The government division Human Resources and Development Canada (HRSDC) vested this organization with the responsibility of reviewing Labor Market Opinion applications, which potential employers must obtain to prove that hiring foreign workers will not adversely affect the employment for Canadian citizens. The work visas last up to eight months, and several rules govern the host company’s treatment of workers. The sending governments orchestrate recruitment. Notably, consular officials from the sending countries are required to be available to SAWP visa-holders. Workers on the SAWP are not permitted the opportunity to apply for permanent residency. 

Legislative Background

The Canadian government established its flagship temporary worker program in 1966 as the Commonwealth Caribbean Agreement (CCA) through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Jamaican government. It initially served to employ Jamaican workers in Southern Ontario, but in 1967 it was expanded to include employees from Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, and the viable territory in Canada expanded to include Quebec.9

The CCA was substantially revised in 1973 with the advent of the Non-Immigrant Employment Authorization Program (NIEAP).10 The new framework established the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), which replaced the CCA, under which the Mexican and Canadian governments entered into an MOU, thus including Mexican agricultural workers in SAWP.

Several islands within the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS; Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines) began participation in SAWP in 1976.11


SAWP’s most important characteristic is its bilateral nature. The Memoranda that established the program stipulate that: consular representatives from sending countries remain in Canada as contacts for employers and employees; Canada protects the temporary worker according to standards outlined in the Memoranda; the participating governments can intervene in contract negotiations between employers and their employees; the sending country’s government take responsibility for recruitment.12 Employers are required to pay employees the prevailing wage.

Employees from Commonwealth Caribbean countries are able to transfer employment with permission of the government division Human Resources and Development Canada (HRSDC), but are otherwise required to leave Canada by December 15th.13 Employees from Mexico are also able to transfer employment, but the contract is clear about the requirement to not exceed 240 hours of employment; Mexican workers are also required to leave by December 15th.14


"Visa Pages" - U.S. Temporary Foreign Work Programs - New Edition
Updated edition of Visa Pages is now available! 
"Visa Pages" is a one-stop resource to find comprehensive information about the various non-immigrant visas U.S. employers use to bring temporary foreign workers from all over the world to work in the U.S. 
Recruitment Rules: Countries of Employment

"Recruitment Rules: Countries of Employment" details the legal framework for international labor recruitment in four common temporary work programs - the United States nonimmigrant H-2A (agricultural) and H-2B (nonagricultural) visas, and the Canadian Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the bilateral Special Program for Agricultural Workers with Mexico and Caribbean nations.


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