CANADIAN BORDER: Do I Need a Visa to Work in Canada Temporarily?

Consider a scenario that has probably occurred at many companies. An employer calls a professional to offer them temporary work in Canada. They discuss specific details related to the scope and anticipated length of the project. During the call, the employee and employer do not discuss legal requirements related to the assignment. The call ends with the employee accepting the assignment; the employer is pleased.

The professional travels to a local airport to fly to a Canadian city to work on the project. They do not have a work permit or other supporting documentation with them. When an immigration officer questions them about the purpose of their trip and asks them for a work permit, the employee says that they do not have one. The officer tells the employee that they cannot enter Canada to perform work without a work permit or other supporting documentation.

The employee is scared and frustrated by what they just heard from the immigration officer, and worried about what may happen next. 

What are the Risks of Attempting to Work in Canada Without Proper Documentation?

Before answering this question, it is important to understand what work means in relation to Canadian immigration laws. According to the Government of Canada, work is, “…an activity for which wages are paid or commission is earned, or that competes directly with activities of Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the Canadian labour market.”

There are also some exceptional cases when foreign workers can work in Canada without a work permit. The following are some situations that do not require work permits if they are:

  • A guest speaker, commercial speaker or seminar leader at a specific event(s), as long as the event(s) is/are not longer than five days.
  • Conducting research at a public degree-granting institution or affiliated research institution for less than 120 days and have not worked in Canada in this role for the past year.
  • A foreign coach or foreign athlete guiding their athletes or competing at an event in Canada.

However, if a foreign worker does not meet one of the exceptions and attempts to enter Canada to work without a work permit, they can suffer some harsh consequences.

The worker may be detained at a land border or airport if they do not have the required documentation. It may be time consuming, costly, and stressful for them to travel to another location.

In a far worse scenario, the employee may be prohibited from entering Canada for one year. This outcome may have far-reaching negative impacts on the employee’s career or travel plans, as well as on the organization who hired them. The employer may need to delay or cancel an important business initiative because the foreign professional they assigned to the project is unable to enter the country to complete their work.

While companies are not restricted from hiring talented employees outside of Canada, it is important for employees and employers to understand immigration laws as they relate to foreign workers accepting work assignments in Canada.

To increase your awareness of what is required as a foreign employee or employer, ask a licensed immigration lawyer as you prepare to work temporarily in Canada.

What is Required of Employers of Foreign Workers?

Put yourself in the position of the employer in the scenario we discussed earlier in the article. You called to tell an employee about a project in Canada. While you may not travel with them when they attempt to cross the Canadian border, there are some legal requirements you need to be aware of as well.

After the hiring process is complete and the temporary worker’s application for a work permit is approved, employers have responsibilities and conditions that they must meet. Some of these requirements include:

  • Ensuring that the temporary worker has a valid, current work permit
  • Complying with all federal, provincial and territorial employment laws
  • Retaining any documentation related to hiring and employing the temporary worker for six years after the work permit is issued including payroll records.

The Government of Canada has other requirements not addressed in this article that employers of foreign workers must know and adhere to.

How Should I Prepare for a Temporary Work Assignment in Canada?          

Employers need to plan international work assignments well in advance. They must allot time to recruit or identify a qualified professional, schedule time to seek legal advice from an immigration lawyer and prepare and process the required documentation for their employee to work in Canada. Employees must, optimally in collaboration with their employer, obtain a work permit and other supporting documentation to complete their assignment in Canada.

With sufficient planning and preparation, employees and employers can focus on completing the assignment or project, and creating positive working arrangements that benefit people and organizations around the world.

Connect with Hart Kaminker, Principal, Kaminker & Associates Immigration Law on LinkedIn.

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