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When Canadian citizens and permanent residents are not available to do the job, there are a few ways to hire temporary foreign workers in the primary agriculture sector in Canada. Seasonal agricultural worker program is among those ways.

Primary agriculture is defined as work duties that must:

  • be performed within the boundaries of a farm, nursery or greenhouse
  • involve at least one activity, such as:
    • operation of agricultural machinery
    • boarding, care, breeding, sanitation or other handling of animals, other than fish, for the purpose of obtaining raw animal products for market
    • collection, handling and assessment of those raw products, or the planting, care, harvesting or preparation of crops, trees, sod or other plants for market
  • be consistent with one of these National Occupational Classification codes:
    • 0821 – Managers in agriculture
    • 0822 – Managers in horticulture
    • 8252 – Agricultural service contractors, farm supervisors and specialized livestock workers
    • 8255 – Contractors and supervisors, landscaping, grounds maintenance and horticulture services
    • 8431 – General farm workers
    • 8432 – Nursery and greenhouse workers
    • 8611 – Harvesting labourers

First of you, you must determine whether or not the position is for work related to production in the National commodity list.

National commodity list for Canada

The national commodity list for Canada is as follows:

  • apiary products
  • fruits, vegetables (including canning/processing of these products if grown on the farm)
  • mushrooms
  • flowers
  • nursery-grown trees including Christmas trees, greenhouses/nurseries
  • pedigreed canola seed
  • sod
  • tobacco
  • bovine
  • dairy
  • duck
  • horse
  • mink
  • poultry
  • sheep
  • swine

If the position is related to production in the national commodities list, temporary foreign workers can be hired through these two streams:

  1. Seasonal Agricultural worker Program (SAWP)
  2. Agricultural Stream

Difference between SAWP and Agricultural Stream

The SAWP is mainly for hiring seasonal workers from Mexico or one of the participating Caribbean countries, for a maximum duration of 8 months. While, there is no restriction of country of foreign workers for the Agricultural stream and the maximum duration can be up to 2 years.

If the position is not related to production in the national commodities list, temporary foreign workers can be hired through these two streams:

  1. Stream for high-wage positions
  2. Stream for low-wage positions

As the name suggests, the difference between the above two streams is the wage paid to the foreign worker.

1- Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP)

The workers from the following countries participate in the SAWP:

 Mexico, Jamaica, Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean states that include, Antigua and Barbuda, Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and The Grenadines.

a- Employer’s responsibilities

  • You must provide temporary foreign workers with the same wages and benefits as those provided to Canadian and permanent resident employees working in the same occupation. 
  • The employer needs to provide housing
  • Employers must provide proof of inspection of the farm accommodation.  
  • Arrange and bear round trip transportation costs for the foreign workers.
  • Employers must ensure that all TFWs register for provincial/territorial health insurance. 
  • Employers must always ensure that the employees are covered from the provincial/territorial insurance provider, where required by law. 
  • The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program has a standard, non-modifiable contract which needs to be signed by the employer and the seasonal worker. 
  • Employer must provide evidence of business legitimacy by providing certain financial documents such as payroll,


The employer needs to apply for a Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to prove a Canadian or Permanent Resident worker was not available for the job. Service Canada processes the LMIA applications. The basic requirements are that the employer must advertise the job to recruit Canadian and Permanent Resident Workers, within the 3 month period prior to applying for an LMIA. The advertisement must at least be active for 14 days. Employers will have to provide proof of advertisement and recruitment efforts. And these evidences must be saved for a period of at least 6 years.

To apply the employer will need to submit the following documents to Service Canada:

Under this Stream employers must complete, sign (where applicable) and submit the following documents:

  • LMIA application form (EMP5389)
  • proof of business legitimacy
  • proof of advertisement
  • copy of signed off-site housing contract, if applicable
  • housing inspection report
  • Applicable Agreement for the Employment in Canada of Seasonal Agricultural Workers 

Once the employer receives the positive LMIA from Service Canada. That can be used to apply for the work permit. The employer is not required to pay the fee for the work permit application.

c- When to start the process?

The application process should be started at least 4 months prior to the worker’s arrival since the steps mentioned above take considerable time to complete.

d- Assistance with SAWP application

Throughough this process, if the employer needs the help of an authorized representative, they may hire one as long as the representative is:

  • An immigration consultant registered with ICCRC
  • A lawyer registered with the law society of a province
  • A quebec notary.

These representatives can apply for the LMIA and also the work permit.

2- Agricultural Stream

Difference between SAWP and Agricultural Stream

We discussed the SAWP in detail. Here are some of the differences between SAWP and the Agricultural Stream:

CriteriaSeasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP)Agricultural Stream
Which employers can apply? Any employer who is part of an approved agricultural commodity sector mentioned above.Any employer can apply, but needs to be assessed by Service Canada.
What countries must the workers belong to?Only participating countries i.e. Mexico, Jamaica, Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean states that include, Antigua and Barbuda, Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and The Grenadines.Any country of the world.
Who is responsible for recruiting workers?Source countries with the help of their liaison agent in Canada.The employer.
What is the maximum employment duration per term?8 months from January 1st to December 15th.24 months. Extendable.
Foreign worker housingEmployer must provide the housing with no cost to the Seasonal Agricultural Foreign Worker.Employers are not required to provide housing but they must demonstrate that suitable housing is available.
Which costs are recoverable?
Caribbean and Mexico recoverable cost for airfare up to 50% of the established airfare each year to a maximum amount. Other recoverable cost (utility cost) deduction of $2.31 per worker per working day. 
There is no provision for a recovery of airfare costs
Do the workers get provincial health coverage?Yes, from day 1.Yes, after a 3 month waiting period. Employers must provide private insurance to cover this waiting period.


Are you a farmer looking to hire a temporary foreign worker? We can assist you in the process. Feel free to get in touch today at info@pcici.ca or Call +16478615080.

In some instances, foreign agricultural workers with Canadian experience may be able to apply for permanent residence as well. Here is one example of such a program:


What is the LMIA processing fee for Agricultural stream or SAWP?

There is no LMIA processing fee for occupations related to primary agriculture and positions under National Occupational Classification (NOC) codes 0821, 0822, 8252, 8255, 8431, 8432 and 8611.

Can the cost of housing be deducted from the seasonal worker’s wages?

No. For the SAWP, the entire cost of housing, utilities as well as maintenance must be paid by the employer.

How do foreign workers apply for the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP)?

Foreign Governments of the participating countries through their Ministry of Labour have established their own recruitment process to obtain names of those individuals who wish to apply to be selected as a seasonal agricultural worker under the program.

What are the basic requirements for workers chosen for the SAWP?

The seasonal workers undergo medical and security screening. They must demonstrate that they can do the agricultural job and they must be at least 18 years old. All of these checks are done by their respective government.

Are the seasonal agricultural workers under the SAWP covered by provincial health insurance?

Yes. And for some provinces like Ontario, there is no waiting period.

Are seasonal agricultural workers subject to regular payroll deductions for Income Tax, Employment Insurance and contributions to the Canada Pension Plan?

Yes. Seasonal agricultural workers are eligible at retirement and upon approval to receive monthly payments from their contributions to the Canada Pension Plan. Workers are subject to deductions for Employment Insurance and in approved cases can collect benefits recognizing the work is insured and not the worker. Income Tax is deducted based on TD1 information, total world income and whether an exemption treaty exists between their country and Canada. Income Tax filing is mandatory and in most cases the worker will be refunded the income tax deducted.

Do the employers pay the travel costs of the seasonal workers under the SAWP?

Initially, yes. But the cost can be covered to some extent in the form of wage deductions based on the agreement and pre-defined maximum limit.

Where can an employer advertise the position for Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), prior to LMIA application?

The first source must be the Job Bank. Another source can be a local website such as kijiji, newspaper, another local job board, etc.

How can I provide proof of job advertisement for LMIA (SAWP)?

For online Ads such as Kijiji or Indeed – ad MUST be printed and submitted at least 14 days after ad was posted to the public to show proof of duration.  An email from Kijiji stating that your ad is about to expire is also acceptable.