The federal government is fast-tracking approvals for temporary foreign workers already in Canada, to make them available to fill labour gaps in critical sectors such as agriculture and health care during the pandemic.

Many foreign workers with employer-specific permits lost their jobs this spring due to the pandemic. Some have left Canada but others are still here because of travel restrictions.

Under the temporary new rules, a foreign worker can start a new job before being issued a new work permit. The approval process normally takes 10 weeks or more; the government plans to shorten that to 10 days or less.

The goal is to help employers in the agriculture, agri-food and health care sectors meet urgent needs for additional employees during the global health crisis.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said in a media release that the temporary policy change will allow Canadian businesses to recruit the workers they need and help the unemployed contribute to the Canadian economy during the pandemic.

“Immigrants, temporary foreign workers and international students are making considerable contributions to Canada’s response to the unprecedented challenge that COVID-19 poses,” he said.

“We know and value their efforts and sacrifices to keep Canadians healthy and ensure the delivery of critical goods and services.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said temporary foreign workers are an “integral” part of Canada’s work force and support its ability to deliver essential goods and services during the global pandemic.

“While there will always be jobs for Canadians who choose to work in these sectors, these changes help support our economy by ensuring that temporary foreign workers already here can contribute during these extraordinary times,” she said.

To be eligible, workers must already be in Canada with employer-specific work permits, or must have been working under work permit exemptions.

An employers hiring a temporary foreign worker still needs to have, or obtain, a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) from Employment and Social Development Canada.

In 2019, about 190,000 employer-specific work permits were issued to foreign nationals.

With farmers and fish processors worried about filling jobs during the pandemic, the federal government already has announced $50 million to help finance the added costs of covering temporary foreign workers while they comply with a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon their arrival in Canada.

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