Well over 100,000 temporary work permits are issued every year, and thousands more work in Canada without a work permit. In this page, we will explore who does – and who does not – require a work permit, and the steps to take if a work permit is necessary. Full information about this will be found on this page.
Every year, thousands of foreign nationals work in Canada without a work permit.
This section will discuss when an individual can work in Canada without first obtaining a work permit (subject to any medical or criminal issues, discussed later), depending on his or her activities in Canada.
If a foreign individual in Canada engages in an activity and is not paid wages or commissions, he or she is not considered to be “working” in Canada and no work permit is required.
However, if an unpaid foreign individual engages in activities that are in direct competition with activities of Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the labour market, this is considered to be “work” and a work permit would be required.
For example, if a foreign individual engaged in an activity that would normally be a paid position for a Canadian citizen, then a work permit would be required. A person can’t work as a “volunteer” in a job that is normally a paid job.
The courts have held that visitors who occasionally help out relatives at their place of business over a short period of time are not usually engaging in work, whereas regular attendance at a workplace where individuals are typically paid over a longer period of time can be considered work for which a permit is required.
A range of business visitors are permitted to work in Canada without a work permit, however, every business visitor must receive his or her pay from outside of Canada, and the principal place of business and profits must remain predominantly outside of Canada:
Individuals in Canada for the sole purpose of purchasing Canadian goods or services for a foreign business or government, or receiving training or familiarization in respect of such goods or services do not require a work permit.
Trainees or Trainers
Individuals in Canada who provide familiarization or training services of installation of specialized equipment purchased or leased outside Canada. Also included are intra-company trainers and trainees. Such training does not include “hands-on” training, but only classroom training.
Individuals who sell goods (not services) for a foreign business or government are exempt from obtaining a work permit, only if they do not sell to the general public in Canada. Generally, individuals under this exemption sell to wholesalers, retailers and institutional buyers.
Military personnel of foreign armed forces (along with civilians who are also a part of the armed forces) do not require work permits, so long as they are from a country that is designated under the Visiting Forces Act.
Senior members of foreign governments who work for a federal or provincial agency pursuant to a formal government exchange agreement do not require a work permit.
Full-Time University or College Students
A student studying in Canada at a university or college under a valid study permit can work on the campus where they are studying so long as their study permit remains valid.
Performing artists can perform in Canada without a work permit for a performance other than for film, television or radio. Performers must be part of a foreign production or guests in a Canadian production in a time-limited engagement and not employed by a Canadian contractor. No performance in a bar, restaurant or similar establishment is permitted under this exception to obtaining a work permit.
Athletes and Coaches
Athletes and coaches with foreign teams can compete in Canada without a work permit.
News Reporters and Crews
An employee of a foreign news company who is in Canada for the purpose of reporting on events in Canada does not need a work permit.
Individuals coming to Canada for the purpose of making a speech or delivering a paper at an event or a function which includes colleges, commercial events or seminars lasting no longer than 5 days, do not require a permit.
Convention Organizers and Support Staff
Those individuals organizing for a convention or meeting in Canada do not require a work permit.
People working for a spiritual congregation or chruch and responsible for assisting a congregation in the achievement of its spiritual goals, and whose main duties are to preach, perform functions related to the gathering, or provide spiritual counselling do not require a work permit. Management or finance duties do require a work permit however.
Judges or Referees
Judges and referees do not require a work permit to officiate at events hosted in Canada.
Examiners of research proposals, academic projects, or university theses do not require a work permit.
Individuals in Canada to conduct surveys or analysis or to testify in court (or equivalent hearing) are exempt from having to obtain a work permit. Nonetheless, these individuals must be expert in their field and no Canadian experts would be available to perform the same function.
Medical students can work without a work permit at a medical institution in order to obtain training (if appoved by the appropriate agency)