Who can work in Canada without a work permit?

Julia Hornstein
Published: April 10, 2024

While foreign workers usually require a Canadian work permit to secure employment, exceptions exist.

Foreign nationals are increasingly drawn to Canada for its diverse and promising work opportunities.

Schedule a Free Work Permit Consultation with the Cohen Immigration Law Firm

By fulfilling the eligibility criteria of one of the following 22 groups, foreign nationals may explore work opportunities without a work permit in Canada.

Business visitors

This group streamlines access for individuals involved in business or trade within Canada, as long as they are not entering the Canadian labour market. While various subcategories exist within this classification, all business visitors must satisfy the following overarching criteria:

  • There must be no intent to enter the Canadian labour market (there will be no gainful employment in the country)
  • The worker’s activity in Canada must be international in scope (it is assumed that a business visitor will engage in cross-border activity of some sort)

For business visitors in Canada working for a foreign employer, the following criteria are assumed:

  • The primary source of the worker’s compensation is outside of Canada
  • The principal place of employment is located outside of Canada
  • The employer’s profits are accrued outside of Canada

When entering Canada, individuals on business visits should be ready to provide immigration officials with documentation verifying their intended status in the country. The required documentation will differ depending on the specific circumstances. A support letter from the parent company or an invitation letter from the Canadian company can increase your chances of being accepted as a business visitor.

Foreign representatives and their family members

Foreign representatives, along with their personal staff and family members, are eligible to work in Canada without the need for a work permit. To qualify for this exemption, foreign representatives must obtain accreditation from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). This exception also extends to diplomatic representatives assigned to United Nations offices in Canada.

For family members of foreign representatives to work without a work permit, they must obtain a 'no objection letter' from the Protocol Department of DFAIT.

Military personnel

Military or civilian personnel stationed in Canada under the Visiting Forces Act are permitted to work and study without the need for work or study permits. This exemption extends to the families of these individuals as well.

Moreover, military personnel are exempt from passport requirements, temporary resident visas, and foreign national medical examinations. However, civilians and their family members are still obligated to obtain these documents if deemed necessary.

Foreign government officers

Canada participates in agreements with other nations that facilitate the international exchange of government employees. These agreements allow foreign workers to come to Canada and work for a department or agency within federal or provincial governments. These individuals are not affiliated with a foreign mission or organization and do not hold accreditation from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).

For executive-level officers engaged in such roles, a contract from Canada’s Public Service Commission (PSC) is necessary. However, officers operating below an executive capacity do not need a contract, although assignments lasting beyond three months should involve a formal letter of agreement between the officer and their Canadian employer.

Family members of officers covered by this exemption generally receive an open work permit or are exempt from the permit requirement while in Canada.

American cross-border maritime law enforcement officers

Certain law enforcement vessels operating across borders are operated by joint Canadian and American crews. These personnel operate on both sides of the US/Canada border, and when within Canadian territory, American crew members are allowed to perform their job responsibilities without the necessity of obtaining additional work authorization.

In-flight security officers (IFSOs)

Foreign International Flight Security Officers (IFSOs) are hired by foreign governments to ensure safety on foreign aircraft. Given their designation by a foreign government, they are permitted to work in Canada without a work permit, as long as their responsibilities are limited to providing security onboard a foreign aircraft.

However, IFSOs from countries mandating a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) for entry into Canada must obtain this visa to carry out their duties in Canadian airspace.

On-Campus employment

A student can work on-campus at their educational institution if they hold a valid study permit and they are a full-time student at one of the following types of schools:

  • A public post-secondary institution (i.e. college or university)
  • A collège d’enseignement général et professionnel (CEGEP)
  • A college-level private institution in Quebec
  • A Canadian private institution authorized to confer degrees

A student can work on-campus throughout the duration of their study permit, if the student is in full-time studies. The scope of employment can encompass various standard on-campus jobs.

Individuals working as research or teaching assistants off-campus as part of a research grant can be considered on-campus workers. The student must also meet all of the following additional criteria:

  • Be recommended by their academic department
  • The work to be performed must be directed by a department head or faculty member
  • The work must take place in a research institute or program in an affiliated hospital or other research location

In addition, once a student has completed their studies and has applied for the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), they are eligible to work full time while waiting for the PGWP as long as they still hold a valid study permit.

Performing artists

Many foreign performing artists can work in Canada without a work permit. However, some types of performers/performances require a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and a work permit.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has outlined some common performers that can enter Canada without a work permit. Some include:

  • Bands performing at bars, pubs, restaurants, etc.
  • Foreign-based musical and theatrical individuals and groups and their essential crew, working outside bars and restaurants
  • Guest artists (not employed) within a Canadian performance group for a time-limited engagement
  • Persons performing at a private event, such as a wedding

In addition, certain performers may work in Canada without a work permit under different sub-categories. These include:

  • Film producers (business visitors)
  • Film and recording studio users (business visitors)
  • Persons doing guest spots on Canadian TV and radio broadcasts (guest speakers)

Athletes and team members

Both professional and amateur athletes have the option to come to Canada for individual or team-based sports activities or events. Similarly, foreign coaches, trainers, and other essential team members are eligible to travel to Canada to take part in these events.

The examples provided by IRCC of individuals who may qualify under this exemption are as follows:

  • Amateur players on Canadian teams
  • Foreign pet owners entering their own animals in a show
  • Jockeys racing horses from foreign-based stables
  • Race car drivers
  • Individuals attending professional team tryouts
  • Foreign team members participating in a competition in Canada
  • Grooms or team support members
  • Full or part-time coaches and trainers

The spouses of professional athletes are eligible for a LMIA-exempt work permit for their time in Canada.

News reporters and media crews

News reporters and their crews are allowed to report on events in Canada without obtaining a work permit. This applies to journalists, given that their employing company is not Canadian. However, this exemption does not extend to managerial or clerical personnel, unless these individuals are covering special events lasting for six months or less.

In most cases, media crews coming to Canada to produce travelogues, documentaries, etc., are obligated to obtain work permits. Nevertheless, the final decision rests with the Canadian Visa Officer reviewing their application.

Public speakers

Presenters at events, including guest speakers, commercial speakers, and seminar leaders, are allowed present in Canada without requiring a work permit.

Commercial speakers falling into this category typically have a vested interest in the event where they are presenting. This often involves renting a commercial space, advertising the event, charging admission, etc. However, if commercial speakers are hired by a Canadian entity, they must obtain a LMIA and a work permit for their time in Canada.

Convention organizers

This group encompasses individuals who come to Canada to coordinate a convention or conference, along with the administrative support staff of the organizing committee. These events may include corporate meetings, trade shows, exhibitions, and similar gatherings. Notably, hands-on service providers like audio-visual specialists do not fall under this category.

Convention organizers hired to work on a Canadian event are not permitted to work without a work permit. IRCC specifies a 'Canadian event' as one organized by an entity located and actively conducting business in Canada.

Individuals attending conferences and meetings are regarded as business visitors and are exempt from the necessity of obtaining a work permit.

Clergy

Those in the profession of preaching, overseeing religious services, or providing spiritual counseling are allowed to work in Canada without the need for a work permit. This applies to ordained ministers, laypeople, or members of a religious order. The primary responsibilities of the temporary worker should align with a distinct religious objective, such as offering religious instruction or promoting a particular faith.

Individuals seeking entry to Canada under this exemption should submit documentation to confirm the authenticity of the employment offer and their capacity to minister to a congregation, including credentials and past employment records.

Individuals conducting charitable or religious work in Canada still require a work permit; however, this permit is exempt from the LMIA process.

Judges, referees, and similar officials

Judges, referees, and similar officials can come to Canada to take part in international amateur events and competitions in the realms of sports, arts, agriculture, or culture.

For amateur sports competitions, the events should be coordinated by an international amateur sport organization and hosted by a Canadian entity. In this context, "amateur" denotes a competition in which athletes are not remunerated for their participation. However, judges, referees, and comparable officials intending to participate in professional sports competitions are required to undergo a positive LMIA and obtain a work permit.

Examiners and evaluators

Foreign professors and researchers may enter Canada to judge theses and projects completed by students without needing a work permit.

Expert witnesses and investigators

Experts required to enter Canada for surveys or analyses serving as evidence, or to testify before a regulatory body or court, are exempt from obtaining a work permit.

Healthcare students

Foreign healthcare students from international institutions can work clinical clerkships or short-term practicums in Canada without needing a work permit. The fields can include medicine, nursing, medical technology, and occupational and physical therapy. These practicums must be unpaid and not exceed four months. However, paid work or stays beyond four months necessitate a work permit.

Civil aviation inspectors

Flight operations and cabin safety inspectors inspecting commercial international flights do not require work permits if employed by a recognized aeronautical authority and have valid documentation.

Aviation accident or incident inspector

Accredited representatives and advisors aiding in aviation accident or incident investigations under the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act are exempt from work permit requirements.

Crew

Crew members on foreign-owned means of transportation not registered in Canada and primarily engaged in international transportation do not need work permits, covering operations, maintenance, or passenger service roles.

Emergency service providers

Workers entering Canada for emergency services during natural disasters or commercial accidents can do so without work permits. Canada-US agreements facilitate the entry of emergency aid workers, including doctors, medical teams, appraisers, and foreign insurance adjusters.

Maintained status

Individuals can continue working under the conditions of an expired work permit, provided they applied for a new one before the original expiration. While awaiting a response, they must stay in Canada to maintain status. Once a decision is made, they can either continue working under the new permit or leave Canada.

If you have questions or require any help, Cohen Immigration Law offers over 45 years of expertise assisting workers and employers navigate Canadian immigration regulations.

Schedule a Free Work Permit Consultation with the Cohen Immigration Law Firm

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