Four common ways to work in Canada without an LMIA under the Canadian interests category

Vimal Sivakumar
Published: November 29, 2022

Some foreign nationals looking to work in Canada temporarily can do so without obtaining a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA).

An LMIA is the labour market test the Canadian government requires when an employer is looking to hire a foreign national due to labour shortages. However, Canada also allows certain foreign nationals to also work here without requiring an LMIA for broad economic, social, and cultural policy reasons.

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One of the ways Canada allows this to happen is through the Canadian interests category of the International Mobility Program (IMP), which contains four streams that will be outlined below.

Stream 1: Competitiveness and public policy

The intended purpose of the competitiveness and public policy stream is to provide foreign nationals with work permits if they are performing duties that require limited access to the Canadian labour market necessary from a public policy perspective to try and maintain the competitiveness of Canada’s academic institutions and/or economy.

The most prominent non-LMIA program in the entire work permit space falls within this stream. The program in question is called the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) program.

The PGWP is a program within the Canadian interests category that provides international students who graduate from an eligible program at any Canadian designated learning institution with an open work permit for up to three years to work for a Canadian employer of their choice without an existing job offer at the time of application.

Note: While this program allows for permits of up to three years, the actual length of a permit will depend on the length of the educational program from which the applicant graduated.

This program is noteworthy for being the one through which Canada provides most of its non-LMIA work permits on an annual basis.

Also included in the competitiveness and public policy stream is a program that provides open work permits to the spouses of and common-law partners of full-time students and foreign nationals who have come to Canada as skilled workers.

Stream 2: Significant benefit

The second way someone can work in Canada without an LMIA is to have their work deemed as providing significant social or cultural benefit to this country. Under this stream, work permits are provided to foreign workers who intend to perform duties that benefit Canadian citizens and permanent residents either through the creation/maintenance of benefits that are social, cultural or economic in nature or by creating new opportunities for Canadians.

“Significant benefit” is largely defined using expert testimonials from individuals in the same field of work as the foreign national applying for the work permit. However, beyond these testimonials, Canada will also make use of the following objective measures, including the applicant’s past record of achievement, to determine their ability to provide benefit to Canada through their work:

  • An official academic record showing that the foreign national has a degree, diploma, certificate, or similar achievement from a learning institution relating to their area of work
  • Evidence from current or former employers showing that the applicant has 10 or more years of experience in the occupation for which they are coming to Canada
  • Whether the applicant has been the recipient of any national or international awards or patents
  • Evidence of the applicant’s membership in organizations requiring excellence of its members
  • Whether the applicant has ever been the judge of the work of others
  • Evidence of the applicant receiving recognition for achievements and significant contributions to the field by peers, governmental organizations, or professional or business associations
  • Evidence of an applicant’s scientific or scholarly contributions to the field
  • Any work authored by the applicant in academic or industry publications
  • Whether the applicant has held a leading role in an organization with a distinguished reputation

The following will outline some of the programs that exist within the significant benefit stream of the IMP.

Entrepreneurs/Self-Employed: Private entrepreneurs aiming to start or operate a business in Canada. In this case, the applicant must be the Canadian business’ sole or majority owner and prove that the benefit to Canada from the business will be significant.

Intra-Company Transfers: Work permit applicants through the Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) program coming to Canada to work for an affiliate, parent company, subsidiary, or Canadian branch of their foreign employer

PNP Nominees as Entrepreneurs: Any potential nominee through a Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) coming to Canada as an entrepreneur

Stream 3: Reciprocal employment

A third pathway to working in Canada without an LMIA involves foreign nationals receiving employment opportunities in Canada as a product of similar opportunities being provided to Canadians working abroad.

In other words, the intended purpose of the reciprocal employment stream is to provide work permits to foreign nationals who will be performing duties in Canada that consequently help either create or maintain international relationships that will provide employment opportunities to Canadian citizens or permanent residents in other countries around the world.

Under this stream, foreign nationals looking to work in Canada can do so without an LMIA thanks to international agreements and international exchange programs that mutually benefit non-Canadians coming to work in this country and natural-born Canadians working in countries around the world.

International Agreements: Due to the existence of international agreements such as the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) — the replacement, as of 2020, for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — there is a measure of reciprocal employment provided to Canadians in many international locations. Therefore, the admission of foreign workers into Canada by way of these agreements is considered a significant benefit to the country, negating the LMIA requirement for eligible foreign nationals.

International Exchange Programs: Programs like the International Experience Canada (IEC) exist to provide opportunities for Canadians to flourish through experiencing life abroad. In cases such as this, foreign nationals applying through the IMP from countries upholding working relationships with Canada are exempt from requiring an LMIA.

Stream 4: Charitable and religious workers

Finally, under the charitable and religious workers stream, Canada provides foreign work permit applicants coming to Canada intending to conduct duties that are “of a religious or charitable nature” with the opportunity to do so without an LMIA.

For these purposes, Canada defines charitable and religious work as the following.

Charitable Work: Work that is conducted with the goal of relieving poverty, advancing education, or providing other benefits to the community.

Some key notes about the way Canada interprets charitable work:

  • Organizations registered as charities with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) are seen as more credible regarding being viewed as truly “charitable in nature”
  • Volunteer charitable workers do not need a work permit
  • Standard charitable workers need a work permit but remain LMIA-exempt

Religious Work: Work where the foreign national applicant is required to “be part of, or share, the beliefs of the particular religious community where they intend to work or have the ability to teach or share other religious beliefs.”

Note: The work conducted by the applicant should “reflect a particular religious objective” such as providing religious instruction or promoting a particular faith

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