Be Careful If You Volunteer in Canada Without a Work Permit


volunteer group hands togetherI’ve been approached numerous times by visitors in Canada asking whether they can volunteer or not without a work permit.  Sometimes these scenarios involve a barter for services or goods (but not money).

It’s a very bad idea in most cases.

I’ll discuss the Juneja case as an example of how trying to avoid the work permit system can lead to disastrous results.

In this case, Mr. Juneja entered Canada from India with a valid study permit.  He began studying at a college in Edmonton, Alberta.  It is important to note that his study permit prohibited any kind of employment.

An individual at Mr. Juneja’s school saw him working at a Ford dealership and contacted authorities.  Mr. Juneja was detained and he had a hearing soon after to determine whether or not he could stay in Canada.

If those were the only facts, then this case would be a pretty straightforward.

However, Mr. Juneja was not being paid at all.  He was not given anything in return for his serviced.  Rather, the Ford dealership was recording his hours, and they agreed that Mr. Juneja would be paid for his services only once he received a work permit in the future.

In essence he was volunteering his time.

The Court in this case found that Mr. Juneja still violated the conditions of his study permit.

It did not matter that he wasn’t being paid.  The Court held that Mr. Juneja was engaged in a “performance of an activity in direct competition with the activities of Canadians and permanent residents in the Canadian labour market.”

In other words, his actions of working (even for free for the time being) competed with the ability of citizens and permanent residents to work, which is prohibited under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Mr. Junja was issued an exclusion order to leave Canada.

Helpful tips on volunteering in Canada without a work permit

So how does a temporary resident without a work permit volunteer in Canada?  It’s best to seek legal counsel as fact situations vary considerably.

Nonetheless here are some general guidelines:

If the job is normally one that is a paid position, do not volunteer for it.

For example, if you are an accountant or computer programmer, you shouldn’t normally volunteer those skills, as typically those are paid positions.

Dishing soup in a soup kitchen?  That’s not normally a paid position and probably ok under the current rules.

If the job is not paid but usually leads to a paid position, do not volunteer for it.

There are certain jobs that individuals normally accept with the expectation that they lead to paid positions.  Certain internships or other training positions may not be paid, but they may be considered to be “in direct competition” of Canadians in the labour market.

Do not try to invent clever schemes of alternative payment.

In the Juneja case, Mr. Juneja and the Ford dealership assumed they had avoided the work permit requirement by delaying any actual payment until Mr. Juneja obtained a work permit in the future.

The Court did not accept this.  It’s not the payment that is always key – it’s interfering with a Canadian’s ability to do that job.  So any sort of alternate payment or barter scheme won’t work – ever.

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Thank you!


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