What Kind of “Work” Requires a Work Permit?


What kind of activities can I do without a work permit?

I get quite a few questions from people who are coming to Canada (or who are already in Canada) and wish to perform some kind of activity while they are here.

I’m asked whether they can volunteer for a commercial enterprise, a charitable agency, or help family or friends with their business in Canada.

Definition of “work”

Citizenship and Immigration Canada considers “work” to be an activity for which wages or commissions are earned OR an activity that competes with activities of Canadians who are already in the labour market.

This means that paid work and certain types of unpaid work are all considered “work” for which a permit will be required. Thus, even if a person does not receive any compensation whatsoever, but performs an activity that would normally compete with what a Canadian would do, then that activity is caught by the permit requirement.

Under the Federal Court of Apppeal case of Georgas, the court examined a visting brother-in-law in Canada who was “helping out” in the family restaurant without a work permit.

In this case, the brother-in-law claimed his work was a “repayment” for the price of his airline ticket to come to Canada.  The court examined the nature and circumstances of the work performed and found the brother-in-law was doing work of a substantial nature, doing work that normally a dishwasher and waitress would do, and the brother-in-law was doing the work 5 hours per day, 7 days per week.

The court held that in this case, that work required a work permit, as it would have deprived a Canadian of gainful employment.  The court was careful to mention that not every family member who helps out in a family business would be considered to be doing “work” for which a permit is required, but each case must be examined on its merits and the nature and circumstances of the activity must be analyzed.

Indeed, in the case of Sarraf, the Nova Scotia County Court examined a case where a friend visiting Canada would occasionally help out at his Canadian’s friend’s store.  There was no evidence of regular or continuous work.  In this case, the friend was acquitted as the nature and quality of the activity was not considered “work”.

The cases indicate that each circumstance is unique and must be decided on the facts on hand.  It seems clear that occasional helping of a relative or friend would not normally be seeen as “work,” but that regular attendance at a place of work for longer periods may be considered “work” for which a permit must be obtained – whether the individual is paid or not.

As always, it is best to consult a lawyer if you plan to work in Canada, whether helping a friend or relative, volunteering, or otherwise.

About the author

Gianpaolo Panusa Gianpaolo Panusa is a Canadian immigration lawyer, writer, and founder of the PanCanadian Immigration Law Group based in Vancouver, Canada. Google+ Profile