SIMCOE — As of December 3, about 80 migrant workers were stranded on a mixed-crop farm at Simcoe in Norfolk County facing the possibility of overwintering in Canada and not seeing their families for one year. Another 20 workers have moved in with relatives in the province.
Farmer Brett Schuyler, of Schuyler Farms, said the problem is getting his workers, from the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago, on a plane.
Anyone flying to Trinidad needs to be on an exemption list. The farm made multiple requests for exemptions but has not received a reply from the Trinidad government.
Airplane passengers heading for Trinidad also need a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their flight. One worker made it home but she only got the email notification on the Wednesday before her Saturday flight, Schuyler said. He expects that none of the 100 workers will make it home.
The Trinidad government has historically been frustrating and slow to deal with on other matters, as well, he said. “It’s like dealing with ghosts.”
Many workers were disappointed but not surprised at the latest hiccup: some had to wait as long as four months to get here in the first place, he said.
For some workers with few ties back in Trinidad, the idea of overwintering isn’t so bad. But “someone with four kids at home, they’re really devastated.”
If they need the money and stay in Canada to work next summer, that might mean a year away from family, he said. “The bigger stress in a lot of these people’s lives is financial. (We’re) fortunate in Canada that our concern is COVID and staying healthy. In other parts of the world, COVID’s not as scary as not being able to put food on the table.”
He planned to overwinter his workers. His housing was already winter-ready but he was busy troubleshooting late last month and in early December, including buying space heaters for cold spots.
“As much as the housing is winter-ready it’s never been used in the winter,” he said.
The main issue now is his workers’ work permits. For now they’re on employment insurance, but their work permits were to expire Dec. 15, which would end their benefits. He’s not charging them rent but buying food for nearly 100 people is still an issue. Schuyler said his understanding was that the federal government was working on getting the workers home but it hadn’t yet been resolved by Farmers Forum’s press time.
A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada told CBC News: “If necessary, the government can consider options on allowing the workers to apply to extend their immigration status, be covered by health care and other services and, if required, get access to various support while they remain in Canada.”