Northern Exposure

Employers Need Understanding of Canadian Work Permits

By Lesli Sheinberg and Isabelle Dongier

When do foreign workers need to obtain a Canadian work permit? The rules often are misunderstood, and that misunderstanding can lead to complicated situations for employers and foreign workers. Sometimes the workers learn of the work permit requirement only upon arrival in Canada, and that can result in many unnecessary (and sometimes unpleasant) hours in immigration offices at border crossings or airports. In some cases, it results in a denial of admission.

To avoid such scenarios it’s important to understand the basics of Canadian work permits. With this article we begin a discussion on the fundamentals of Canadian work permits that will continue in future issues of Northern Exposure.

Visitors to Canada can be exempted from the work permit requirement in various situations, such as when attending business meetings, searching for potential clients, negotiating contracts, or taking part in a business convention. A special work permit exemption is also available to foreign employees providing after-sales services to a Canadian customer or intra-company training. Please refer to the February 2009 and July 2009 issues of Northern Exposure, where we discussed business visits in Canada and work permit exemptions.

When no work permit exemption is available, steps must be taken for the employee to obtain a work permit. This must be done before or at the time of the person’s arrival in Canada.

What is a work permit and who needs one?
A work permit is a document issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada for a specific duration (from a few days to several years). It authorizes its holder to undertake business or work activities in Canada, entering the Canadian labor market. The document will usually include the employee’s personal information, the name of the employer company, the position to be held in Canada, and employment location. The permit usually prohibits the employee from studying in Canada or working in another occupation, another location, or for any employer other than indicated on the document.

All individuals who are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents must obtain a work permit before undertaking any work activity in Canada unless a work permit exemption applies. The Canadian immigration regulations define “work” as an activity for which wages are paid or commission is earned or that is in direct competition with the activities of Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the Canadian labour market.

In practical terms, a permit is required in order for a foreign employee to participate actively in the day-to-day production of goods or services of a Canadian company.  This applies even when the individual won’t be based in Canada on a full-time basis. And it applies even when the salary won’t be paid by the Canadian company.

As a general rule, the Canadian company will have to demonstrate the neutral or positive effect the employment of the foreign worker is likely to have on the labor market in Canada. This includes showing that reasonable but unsuccessful efforts were made to recruit Canadians for the position. However, this requirement may be waived in various circumstances, for example, for some professionals qualified under NAFTA or intra-company transferees. All of these particular situations will be discussed in upcoming issues of Northern Exposure.

So stay tuned!

Contact the authors, Lesli Sheinberg and Isabelle Dongier

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