The journey to Canada for SAWP workers

For many migrant farm workers who come to Canada through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), it’s been a long journey in the making. It’s no guarantee when a worker applies to SAWP that they are given the opportunity to join the program. That’s what makes it so special for workers like Ermel, who applied for the program twice before he was accepted into the program and admits that he chose to come to Canada to improve the lives of his three children.

First off, there is a certain list of countries whose workers are eligible to participate in SAWP. This includes Mexico, Jamaica and several other Caribbean nations. Canadian farms must demonstrate that there are no Canadians to fill the positions at the farm by completing a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). The LMIA must be first approved by Service Canada and then can be shared with the government of one of the participating countries who will then do the recruitment and hiring of workers in response to the request from the farm.

As for the workers applying to join the SAWP, it’s certainly not something done on a whim. For most, they have been thinking about it for years and many have family members who have served as inspiration to apply for the program. The application process takes dedication and hard work as workers must fill out many documents, along with healthcare check-ups and meet certain requirements as laid out by their home country’s government. Mexico, for example, requires workers to have some sort of background in agriculture in order to be eligible. It’s a rigorous process run by their government, not just something anyone can sign up for.

To so many of these men and women, SAWP is a major deal. As Carlos from Jamaica says, “It takes a lot to know you are leaving your family back at home, but it is worth it.”

Another reason for SAWP being so important is the protection and benefits that workers receive from it while in Canada. This includes things like housing, healthcare, fair wages and more. Unfortunately, undocumented workers coming illegally into Canada do not receive these same protections, leaving them vulnerable to mistreatment. This is why it’s crucial for workers to come to Canada through one of the government-regulated streams.

To learn more about the government-regulated programs, check-out one of our recent blog posts detailing the different options for workers to come to Canada.

Welcome kits for arriving migrant farm workers

Arriving in a new country can be daunting, especially if you’re there for work. And nobody likes those long travel days where sometimes it feels like you may never reach your destination. It’s no different for migrant farm workers making the trip from places like Mexico and Jamaica. They’re long days, and while there’s surely some excitement when the workers arrive, after the arrival in Toronto most workers still have a long car ride ahead of them to the farm they’re employed by.

To help try and make the day little easier for arriving workers the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) partnered with the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) to put together welcome kits for workers to receive upon their arrival in Toronto. This started in 2022 and after receiving a lot of positive feedback, the initiative continued into 2023.

Admittedly, the kits aren’t designed to last for months and provide several meals, but they are able to give a small piece of comfort during a long travel day. Included in the kits are snacks (beef jerky, protein bars, granola bars), water, safety kits, reflective arm bands and resources designed to make the transition into Ontario a little bit smoother.

This is not the first initiative that’s been undertaken at the airport. During the COVID-19 pandemic the airport also housed a vaccination clinic for arriving workers where they would have the option to take the vaccine. Educational resources were made available, but it was ultimately the decision of the workers on whether they wanted to take the vaccine. Meals were also provided for workers.

For more information on the migrant farm worker programs, please visit

SAWP? TFW Program? Undocumented? What do these mean?!

As you browse through the More than a Migrant Worker (MTAMW) website and do more reading about migrant farm workers in Canada, you’ll probably notice a few acronyms that keep popping up: SAWP and TFW program. These represent the two legal streams for workers to come to Canada to work on farms. But why are there two programs? Are they different? What are the benefits? In this blog we’ll go through the two programs and break down why they’re so beneficial to migrant farm workers and the farmers who hire them.

The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) began in 1966 when a group of 264 Jamaican workers arrived in Ontario to harvest apples. Today, the program is available in five regions: Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean islands. If Canadian horticultural farm employers can’t find suitable Canadian employees, they can employ foreign workers through this program, which provides them with a much-needed, reliable labour source. Under SAWP, workers can stay for a maximum of eight months and are guaranteed at least 240 hours of work.

The Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program, most commonly referred to as Ag Stream in the agriculture sector, is very similar in that Canadian employers can hire foreign employees to fill labour shortages. While SAWP is specifically designed for the seasonality of the horticulture sector, the TFW Program is much broader and can be used by any employer able to demonstrate the need for foreign workers. The major difference is that under this program, employers are able to hire workers from almost anywhere around the globe and that the work term can be up to a maximum of 24 months.

The benefits to these programs are massive – both for employees and employers. For workers, this includes government-approved wage rates, subsidized or free housing, access to health care under OHIP, Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan and workplace insurance coverage and safety protection – just like any other Canadian employee is entitled to. Workers with permits under the SAWP or TFW Program also have access to multilingual, 24/7 federal government support.

It’s also important to note that both programs are government regulated to ensure employers are meeting certain standards when it comes to things like housing conditions, wage rates, workplace safety and more. This means frequent provincial, federal and foreign government inspections for growers who employ migrant farm workers.

Unfortunately, there is also a third segment of workers who don’t share the benefits of the SAWP and TFW Program. These are people who are undocumented and don’t have legal work permits. Their uncertain status leaves them vulnerable to mistreatment, regardless of which sector they work in. Governments at the federal and provincial level have made it a priority to prevent the exploitation of these undocumented people and the farming sector is fully supportive of this aim.

For more information on the legal streams available for migrant farm workers to come to Canada, please visit