Bringing Entertainers to Canada

CIC News
Published: March 2, 2014

On any given night in one of Canada’s cities, the entertainment options will seem almost endless. There may be a new Russian ballet in town, or perhaps an American musical straight off Broadway. The newest rock group from London may be playing a show, and an international sporting event taking place just down the street.

At first glance, these productions may seem to have little in common. However, they all share one common denominator: all their foreign entertainers and support staff had to receive government permission to perform their work in Canada.

Every year, Canada welcomes thousands of entertainers through its borders. But beyond the lights and excitement is the sometimes complicated legal process of obtaining permission for these individuals work in Canada. Even if just for one day, all temporary foreign workers must receive either a Canadian work permit or formal permission to work without a work permit.

Entertainers coming to Canada, as well as their managers, may face immigration scenarios that are unique to their line of work. Here are three important factors they should keep in mind:

Obtaining Work Authorization in Canada

The type of work to be performed in Canada dictates whether or not entertainers (and their support staff) will need to obtain a work permit.

Individuals can work in Canada without a work permit when Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) determines that their work does not amount to entry into the Canadian labour force. When this happens, entertainers are classified as ‘business visitors’ as opposed to ‘temporary workers’. It is important to note that, depending on his or her nationality, a business visitor may still be required to apply for and obtain a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) before entering Canada.

ESDC provides this non-exhaustive list of business visitors in the entertainment industry:

  • Producers of films, television, etc projects are funded entirely from outside of Canada;
  • Adjudicators at music and dance festivals;
  • Performing artists, their support crew, and other workers essential to the performance. Examples of performing artists include:
    • Musicians in a band performing several tour dates in Canada;
    • Guest conductors and artists performing with Canadian productions or groups for a few performances;
    • Actors in foreign touring theatrical productions;
    • Musicians and buskers coming to Canada to perform in festivals;
    • Support crew and other workers who are integral to a live production;
    • Disc jockeys coming to Canada to work at private events, festivals, concerts and fairs

In order to be eligible to enter Canada as business visitors, performing artists like those listed above must not:

  • Perform in bars or restaurants;
  • Work on the production of a film, TV, radio, or internet broadcast;
  • Enter into an employment relationship with the Canadian organization contracting their services

In many cases, entertainers will not fit into the business visitor category and must apply for and receive work permits in order to enter Canada. The organization that will be employing them or contracting their services in Canada may be required to obtain a Labour Market Opinion (LMO). An LMO demonstrates that no Canadian citizen or permanent resident could be found to fill the job. After a positive LMO is received, an entertainer can then apply for a temporary work permit.

LMO applications usually require that employers advertise for the job position in Canada for over a month. Many entertainers are exempt from this requirement, provided that they will be working in Canada for a limited number of days, in a specific location, and on short notice.

Issues of Criminal Inadmissibility to Canada

Seemingly minor offenses can render an individual inadmissible to Canada. Offenses as common as DUIs can result in an individual being turned away at the border. With many entertainers operating on a time sensitive performance schedule, an unexpected delay resulting from criminal inadmissibility is simply not an option.

In the past, even well-known performers have been forced to cancel dates in Canada because they were deemed inadmissible at the border. For instance, in fall 2013 three well known hip hop musicians were barred from entering Canada to play concerts in Montreal and Toronto due to criminal inadmissibility concerns, upsetting hundreds of fans.

In most cases, an individual’s criminal inadmissibility to Canada can be overcome. However, it can take anywhere from several weeks to several months until the necessary government documentation is procured. It is therefore of the utmost importance that all individuals who wish to enter Canada, even if only for a day, thoroughly research their history and take proactive steps to address possible criminality issues.

Cross-Border Coordination of Large Productions

Large entertainment productions should keep in mind that every single individual entering Canada – from the stars to the truck drivers – will need to obtain proper work authorization. Even if workers are classified as business visitors and thus work permit exempt, managers should budget extra time to address unforeseen immigration issues. This is especially the case for organizations that are entering Canada for the first time, or contain several workers who will be entering Canada for the first time. A few things that large productions should take into account include:

  • Unexpected issues related to criminal or medical inadmissibility
  • Some workers may require a TRV, while others may not
  • Associated fees for any and all applications

Bringing Equipment across the Border

Some entertainers, especially those performing on a small scale, may be tempted to simply enter Canada as visitors and then perform in secret. However, individuals who attempt to cross the border while carrying a great deal of equipment, such as musical instruments, run the risk of being turned away because it appears that they will be working in Canada.

“Canadian border agents know what to look for when assessing individuals wishing to enter Canada,” said Attorney David Cohen. “They are on the lookout for signs that a person is planning to work in the country, and carrying large amounts of equipment is often a dead giveaway. It is best to go through official channels when dealing with immigration officials, especially because being turned away once can complicate future entries to the country.”

The Final Word

Every year, Canadians get to enjoy incredible entertainment from all over the world. International entertainers help to enrich Canadian society and deepen cultural ties and understanding between countries.

In order to ensure that their scheduled performances take place on time, international entertainers should make sure that they secure the necessary work authorization well in advance of their planned performance dates. With a little advanced preparation, entertainers should be able to enter Canada with little to no hassle.

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