Work Temporarily in Canada

Persons who seek to enter Canada to work for a temporary period of time require an Employment Authorization. Employment Authorizations are issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada , the Canadian Government Ministry charged with the responsibility of controlling immigration to Canada.

Certain persons are exempt from the Employment Authorization requirement under the provisions of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.  Foreign diplomats, military personnel, clergy and related religious workers, certain performing artists and athletes, ship or truck crew members and designated foreign buyers and sellers generally do not require an Employment Authorization.

There are numerous other exempted occupations listed in Section 19(1) of the Immigration Regulations and these regulations should be consulted to confirm whether an exemption may apply to your occupation.

Do I Need a Work Permit?

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) provides that only Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada may work in Canada without the need for a Canadian Work Permit (CWP). As a general rule, a foreign national may only be employed in Canada if there are no qualified Canadians or Permanent Residents available to fill the requirements of the position.  The safeguard against the abuse of this principle is Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), also known as Service Canada.  Again, as a general rule, Service Canada (SC) will assess each offer of employment to a foreign national and must issue a positive Labour Market Opinion (LMO) before a foreign national can apply to obtain a lawful CWP.

There are exceptions to this general rule, and subject to qualifying for the same, business people wishing to relocate temporarily or permanently to Canada do have a number of other options open to them.

Temporary Business Visits

Canada maintains a list of countries whose nationals must obtain a visa prior to entering the country.  If you are from a country that requires a visa to visit Canada, you must apply for a temporary resident visa just like any other temporary visitor to Canada in order to enter Canada as a Business Visitor.

If you are a citizen of a country whose nationals do not require a visa prior to entering Canada, you may present yourself at a Port of Entry (POE) for inspection to determine if you have a lawful purpose to enter Canada.  Business Visitors do not require a CWP to enter Canada.  You may qualify as a business visitor if you are a foreign national who plans to visit Canada temporarily to look for new business opportunities, to invest or to advance existing business relationships.

Business visitors usually stay in Canada for a few days or a few weeks. To be considered a business visitor you must be able to demonstrate that:

  • you intend to stay for less than six months and do not plan to enter the Canadian labour    market;
  • your main place of business and source of income is located outside Canada;
  • profits from your business will accrue outside Canada;
  • you can provide documents that support your application and
  • you meet Canada’s basic entry requirements. You:
    • have a valid travel document, such as a passport
    • have enough money for your stay and to return home
    • plan to leave Canada at the end of your visit and
    • do not pose criminal, security or health risks to Canadians.

Cross-border business can include activities like:

  • buying Canadian goods or services for a foreign business or government;
  • taking orders for goods or services;
  • attending meetings, conferences, conventions or trade fairs;
  • providing after-sales service (mainly supervision, not hands-on labour);
  • being trained by a Canadian parent company you work for outside Canada;
  • training employees of a Canadian subsidiary of a foreign company; or
  • being trained by a Canadian company that has sold you equipment or services.

If you plan to stay longer than six months or intend to work in Canada, you will likely require a CWP, as you will be considered a temporary worker.  There are some instances where a foreign national may enter Canada without a CWP to work temporarily if they are permanent employees of corporations based outside Canada that carry on business in Canada, either directly or through a parent or subsidiary company.  Such conditions are restrictive and tightly monitored.  Employees may only be in Canada to meet and consult with other employees, sell goods to parties other than the general public, or purchase Canadian goods or services. They may not directly enter the Canadian labour market and their primary source of remuneration for the business activity must be outside Canada.

Business Visits Under International Trade Agreements

Agreements such as NAFTA and the GATS set out additional categories of business visitors who may temporarily enter Canada for a period not exceeding six months to market their goods or services here or to take the steps necessary to establish a commercial presence in Canada to sell those goods or services here.

Under NAFTA, business visitors from the U.S. and Mexico may enter Canada to sell goods or negotiate contracts for goods or services for a company of a signatory country provided they are not delivering goods or providing services. Direct sales to the general public are permissible provided the goods or services are not delivered or made available to the buyer at the time of the sale (i.e., on the same business trip).

A business visitor who practices as a “Designated Professional Occupation” under NAFTA may participate in business meetings, negotiate the purchase or sale of goods or services, or market, distribute or provide after-sales services.

To be eligible under GATS, a business visitor may not receive remuneration from within Canada and may not engage in making direct sales or supplying services to the general public. He or she may only participate in business meetings, including negotiations for the sale of services or other similar activities, including setting up a business in Canada.

How can I Obtain a Canadian Employment Authorization?

IRPA provides that a person who wishes to engage in employment in Canada must apply for the work authorization prior to arrival at a port of entry. However, there are certain circumstances which would allow a person to apply for an Employment Authorization from within Canada or upon entry into Canada. Generally, U.S. citizens or permanent residents are not required to apply from outside Canada. Such persons may qualify for admission to Canada under the terms of the NAFTA which permits application for Employment Authorizations by certain designated professionals at a Port of Entry.

As a general rule, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will not issue an Employment Authorization unless and until a “validation” from a Service Canada has been issued. The validation requirement entails an application by a prospective Canadian employer to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada