Just get them home already
There are hundreds of migrant farm workers from Trinidad and Tobago stuck in this country without work and unhappily facing a Canadian winter.
They’ve paid into Canada’s employment insurance system, but the rules are written in such a way that they’re not eligible to receive EI payments.
They’ve been told to pay a fee to extend their work permits, which expire next week, even though there’s no work for them to do.
This is just the kind of mindless paper-pushing that gives bureaucracy a bad name.
It’s long past time for Ottawa and officials in Trinidad and Tobago to cut through all this nonsense and get these workers home.
Trinidad and Tobago closed its borders to all international travel after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, but still allowed migrant farm workers to leave the country for work (and helpfully send remittances home).
An estimated 400 of them arrived in Ontario and Alberta after Ottawa requested help to secure Canada’s food supplies.
So we asked them to come and their country let them go. It’s incumbent on both countries to work out a deal to get them home.
A 26-year-old man at an Ontario farm says he feels betrayed by both countries — and he has every right to feel that way.
“They made all these promises when they wanted us to travel and work,” he said. “Now our job is done and we are stranded, no one cares about us.”
The Trinidadian consulate general in Toronto is busy urging the labourers to renew their work permits so they don’t lose status in Canada because the border restrictions in Trinidad and Tobago are affecting the “timely repatriation of farm workers.”
And Canada is also looking to address their immigration status and ensure they’re covered by health care. “They will not be left without status in Canada,” said a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.
That’s all well and good. But sorting out the paperwork to let them stay in freezing farm bunkhouses not designed for winter living is the wrong answer. These workers want to go home and they should expect officials in both countries to be working hard on a plan to make that happen.
Charter a flight and get these people home, now. It’s that simple.
Canada can afford to pay for the flight using some of the estimated $21million that seasonal migrant farm workers pay annually in EI premiums. It’ll no doubt be cheaper than paying to house and support these workers through the winter, which is the only other option.
Trinidad and Tobago needs to waive its ban on international travellers so they can get home and help them with quarantine requirements once they get there. After all, this isn’t a planeload of holiday sun-seekers; these are hard-working citizens who just want to go home.
Advocates in Canada are doing their best to outfit the workers with winter clothing and help provide them with food since they’re living off meagre savings. They’re also trying to get them access to EI payments and extend work permits so they don’t wind up being here illegally and risk being barred from future entry into Canada.
But surely the far better solution is for the government to get its act together and get the workers home.
Canada relies on migrant farm workers to plant and pick our crops every year. Most made it home when the season ended. This relatively small group didn’t and are now caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare spanning two countries.
They came here at personal risk because we asked them to. The least we can do is get home to their families for Christmas.
A man at an Ontario farm says he feels betrayed by both countries — and he has every right to feel that way