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

carrots and cucumbers

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