Last Updated on January 24, 2019
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) define work in a broad sense. Foreigners may be found to be working without authorisation when they least expect it, such as when volunteering or during a student internship.
The Canadian government requires that there be “reasonable grounds to believe” that a foreigner has performed any work in order to support an accusation of working without a work permit. Being accused of working without a work permit is hard to defend, and usually results in deportation.
The Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) defines work requiring a work permit as any “activity for which wages are paid or commission is earned, or that is in direct competition with the activities of Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the Canadian labour market”.
Immigration policy in this area, supported by the courts, generally interprets the definition to cover a wide category of activities.
For example, foreigners who “volunteer” while awaiting authorization to work or Canadian permanent resident status have been found to be guilty of working illegally. In such cases, retroactive pay for work done previously is also considered illegal. Likewise, arrangements that provide accommodation and meals given in lieu of payment for services are considered to require a work permit. The same applies to unpaid internships carried out to gain work experience.
Immigration authorities view foreigners performing even minor tasks as significant enough to require a work permit. This includes tasks such as stacking shelves, unpacking boxes, cooking in a restaurant kitchen, childcare, or even answering phones.
If Canadian authorities believe that the employer benefitted in any way from the work performed by the foreign national, or that carrying out the task has potentially deprived a Canadian of potential lawful employment, then they will rule against the foreign national. Even if the task is viewed as inconsequential by the worker or the employer, a work permit is required
Perhaps the only leeway granted to foreign nationals is if they are a visiting a relative in Canada and perform a task in or for a private residence. This could include occasional gardening, babysitting, or minor cleaning.
Canadian Courts have ruled that the broad definition of what constitutes work is necessary to protect employment opportunities for all citizens and permanent residents of Canada, no matter how minor the work may be.
The only safe option for foreigners is to avoid performing any activity that may take away an opportunity of employment from Canadians or permanent residents.
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