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COVID-19 concerns mean many migrant workers in B.C. won't go home for Christmas

Last Updated Dec 7, 2020 at 9:08 am PDT

FILE - Farmland in Delta. (Riley Phillips, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Many migrant workers have been asked to remain in B.C. through the holidays, when they'd normally go home

Advocate says concerns over COVID-19 delays prompted some farms to request migrant workers not return home for holidays

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It will be an unusual Christmas for at least two dozen migrant workers on the Lower Mainland who won’t be going home, as they normally would at this time of year.

Generally, after the harvest season, many migrant farm workers go home for the holidays and return the following year as part of their contracts.

“Usually, they come for two years — they are part of what is called the agricultural stream, that’s part of the temporary foreign workers'[program],” Byron Cruz, who advocates for the workers, explains.

However, Cruz says some farms fear a repeat of recruitment problems encountered in Guatemala last year, so the employers have decided to keep the workers on through the winter requesting they stay through the holidays.

He notes COVID-19 has created challenges in bringing workers to Canada from Guatemala, which usually happens through private recruiters.

From those challenges, to a grim COVID-19 situation and the political climate in that country, Cruz says workers are dealing with a number of stresses.

He says on one hand, the foreign workers are happy to get the work, but on the other, they’re sad to not be going home after close to a year of being away from loved ones.

“They miss families and the number of farm workers that need counselling and mental health support is increasing and we are being sure to keep in touch with them and to support them,” he tells NEWS 1130.

“Being away for more than a year from their families, it’s sad, very sad.”

But Cruz says the local community is determined to create a festive occasion for the foreign workers.

“Right now we are preparing to celebrate with the migrant workers. In our plans, we are going to cook 800 tamales for Christmas and we will be celebrating with them, of course, taking care of all the protocols regarding COVID — we are very aware of that,” he explains, adding money has also been raised to buy heaters for some of these workers.