“Migrant workers are employed and live under a different set of legal rights than Canadians,” Mr. Ramsaroop added. “The very existence of temporary foreign worker programs enables the Canadian government to deny basic freedoms and protections as a result of their immigration status.”
The farmworker program is part of a broader initiative that also brings in temporary foreign workers for other industries, like fish processing and home health care. While Canada has decreased the overall number of temporary foreign workers since 2014, the farmworker program is growing, with visas approved for more than 34,000 laborers in 2016, up from about 25,000 in 2011, government figures show.
Josh Bueckert, a spokesman for the federal department that oversees the program, said in an email that the workers “are protected by all the same rights and protections as Canadians.”
The department provides a telephone tip line and a web page, he said, where cases of potential fraud or abuse can be anonymously reported, though neither is in Spanish, the only language many of the farmworkers speak.
Since April 2014, the department has received more than 5,000 tips, and over 640 have resulted in an inspection or a referral to the authorities, Mr. Bueckert said.
In May, however, a report by Canada’s auditor general found scant federal oversight of the temporary foreign worker program, with only 13 of 173 planned inspections completed in the 2016 fiscal year. Temporary foreign workers had not been interviewed during any of the completed inspections, according to the report.