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Temporary Worker Programs in Canada

Canada also runs guestworker programs similar to the US, with its Caribbean and Mexican Migrant Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and Foreign Worker Program (FWP). The SWAP program is for agricultural migrant workers, and the FWP covers non-farm worker, low-and medium-skilled workers.

Mexican Migrant Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP)

Canada's agricultural migrant worker program originated in 1966, bringing agricultural workers from the Caribbean and was expanded in 1974 to bring workers from Mexico at which point the program gained its "SAWP" name. The SAWP program is administered by the Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) branches of Canadian government.

The Canadian government has set up the following requirements for employers to request foreign workers.

  • Program Information:
    • Workers are allowed to work on Canadian farms for a period of up to 8 months11, 12
    • There are Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) which cover
      • Operational Guidelines describing each country's responsibilities, and specifically includes the Employment Agreement (EA).13
        • The Employment Agreement outlines obligations of each party
          • The employers' responsibility is to
            • pay for transportation
            • provide housing
            • pay the prevailing wage
            • set the contracted terms of the job, according to the labor laws of the specific province14
          • The employee agrees to
            • Work for the contracted season, with a minimum of 240 hours within a 6-week period, for a specific employer
          • The EA must be signed by the employer, worker and sending-country-consular representative15, 16

Once the request by the Canadian employer is made, the Mexican officials are given 20 days to choose the requested workers and provide the workers medical clearance and passports.17 It is important to note that Mexican workers are responsible for paying their own medical screenings and transportation to Mexico City for the various screenings, registrations, and approvals necessary for the program.18

SAWP's Current Migration Patterns

Canada's SAWP program is currently bringing agricultural workers from Mexico, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia, Monserrat and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.19

As with any program, it is difficult to pinpoint the volume of workers participating in the specialized migrant worker programs, yet the following data from the CIC's shows:

        • The number of Mexican migrant workers in the SAWP program has continually increased in the last ten years;

Annual Flow of Mexican Foreign Workers to Canada - 1997-200520*



1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Mexican Workers 6,127 6,990 8,139 10,073 11,306 11,629 11,301 11,494 12,610


*These numbers are taken from the Citizen and Immigration Canada Facts and Figures for 2005 and are representative of the "Foreign Workers" to Canada from Mexico; although not specified as agricultural or SAWP workers, the preceding graph, from the CIC bulletin The Monitor, strongly suggests that the numbers indicate SAWP agricultural workers.

        • Mexican migrant workers outnumber the migration pattern of the other participating sending countries.




The graph suggests Mexican migrant worker participation has not only been largely significant in terms of agricultural workers to Canada under SAWP, it has also increased at a greater rate than participation from the Caribbean.

Yet with all of these migrant workers traveling for work, the responsibility of monitoring the working conditions or aiding workers when disputes arise over the fulfillment of the Employment Agreement conditions, is left to the government representatives from the sending countries.22These raises serious concerns over how well protected the workers rights are since any issues that come up are to be raised by a party in another country. Recently some progress has been made, up until June of 2007, migrant farm workers in Alberta and Ontario were not allowed to unionize and collectively bargain, under the Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA), making it more difficult for workers to voice grievances and gain representation against employers when matters arose.23 In June of 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that migrant farm workers have a constitutional right to collectively bargaining.24While this a great victory for the migrant community in Canada, there still remains much work to be done.

Foreign Worker Program

Canada also has a non-farm worker-targeted temporary worker program called the Foreign Worker Program (FWP). This program was introduced in 2002 for low-and medium-skilled workers by HRSDC.25While the employers must pay the prevailing wage as with the SAWP program, they are not required to provide housing and there is less government supervision of this program; also unlike SAWP, workers may stay for a period of up to 12 months and then may move on to other work upon completion of the original assignment.


"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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