Business Visitor

Employing Foreign Workers: Visas and Work Permits

Posted on by Behdad Hosseini
Employment visa

Employing Foreign Workers

As an organization operating or considering operating a business in Ontario, you might wish to employ foreign workers here, either temporarily or permanently.

The federal government’s immigration policy provides that employment opportunities in Canada belong first to Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada.

Yes, foreign workers can offer several benefits, including:

  • helping you meet your labour needs
  • increasing your competitiveness
  • helping develop new markets
  • enhancing your organization effectiveness
  • linking you to other valuable workers and organizations.

The governing statute is Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). The department in charge is the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Some provinces have entered into agreements with the federal government enabling them to assume certain policy and procedural objectives.

The federal government offers several programs:

They are frequently changing. We can tell you about the current programs. So you might want to consult us before deciding about hiring or engaging foreign workers.

1. Temporary

Temporary Foreign Worker Program allows you to hire foreign workers to fill temporary labour and skill shortages. The IRPA generally prohibits a foreign national (any person other than a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada) from working in Canada without first getting a work permit.

A work permit will generally only be issued when your using a foreign worker will not adversely affect employment opportunities for Canadians or permanent residents of Canada.

Generally, if you as an employer want to hire a foreign worker, you have to first get a positive or neutral confirmation or “labour market opinion” (LMO) from Service Canada of the job offer in favour of the particular foreign worker. But certain categories of workers do not need an LMO; they only need a work permit.

Some examples are: workers covered under international agreements; workers nominated by a province for permanent residence; entrepreneurs and intra-company transferees; spouses and common-law partners of certain skilled foreign workers; and refugees.

International Student Program allows students who have come to Canada to study to apply for work permits.

2. Permanent

Federal Skilled Worker Program assesses applicants based on their ability to adapt to Canada’s labour market. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) gives priority to applicants with qualifying job offers.

Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) allows provinces and territories to nominate foreign workers for permanent immigration. Foreign nationals who qualify under a PNP may apply for permanent-resident status on an expedited basis.

They may get a work permit while the permanent resident application is being processed.

Nominated applicants have to apply to CIC for permanent residence. A CIC officer assesses the application based on Canadian immigration regulations.

Ontario’s program has a category allowing foreign nationals to enter where a major investment and new business will be created here that will provide employment for Ontario residents.

Canadian Experience Class (introduced in 2008) allows temporary foreign workers and graduates from qualifying post-secondary education in Canada with Canadian work experience to stay permanently, thus bypassing the more complex and restrictive skilled worker category.

Self-Employed Persons Program seeks to attract applicants who intend and are able to become self-employed in Canada and establish a business.

To be eligible as a self-employed person, an applicant must have “relevant experience”, defined as: participation at a world-class level in cultural activities or athletics; farm management experience; or self-employment in cultural activities or athletics.

Permanent Residence

As noted, any non-Canadian entering Canada and planning to remain as a permanent resident must get a Permanent Resident Visa.

A person may apply for permanent residence under one of a number of different categories, including:

  1. Business Immigration (including investors, entrepreneurs and certain self-employed persons)
  2. Economic Class (including Skilled Worker Class, Canadian Experience Class, and Provincial Nominees)
  3. Family Class sponsorship
  4. Refugees.

For instance, an entrepreneur applicant must show he intends and can establish or acquire a substantial interest in a viable business that will create or maintain job opportunities for Canadians, and must actively participate in managing the business.

An investor applicant must have a certain minimum net worth and be willing to invest a set amount either with the federal government or with one of several provincial investor programs.

Foreign workers who obtain work permits in Canada may wish to apply for permanent resident status. If they get permanent resident status, they no longer need a work permit to work in Canada.

Work Permits

In general, any business-related activity temporarily carried on in Canada by a person who is neither a Canadian citizen nor a Canadian permanent resident, for which remuneration is received or would reasonably be expected to be received, requires a work permit.

But there are several work permit exempt categories that allow a foreign national, if eligible, to carry on prescribed business activities in Canada without a work permit. Work permit exempt categories include the intra-company trainer and the NAFTA Business Visitor.

Under certain circumstances, foreign companies carrying on business in Canada may transfer executives, senior managers or workers with specialized knowledge to work temporarily in Canada, subject to the transferred person’s obtaining a work permit.

A person might be eligible for a work permit as an intra-company transfer under certain international agreements, specifically the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Canada Chile Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA) and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

NAFTA applies only to citizens of Canada, the U.S. or Mexico; it does not apply to “permanent residents” or “green card holders”. NAFTA also exempts certain designated “professionals” from the Service Canada LMO requirements.

Certain jobs do not require a work permit.  Individuals that fall into one of the following categories (listed alphabetically) do not need a work permit: athletes and coaches; aviation accident or incident investigators; business visitors; civil aviation inspectors; clergy; convention organizers; crew members; emergency service providers; examiners and evaluators; expert witnesses or investigators; family members of foreign representatives; foreign government officers; foreign representatives; health-care students; judges, referees and similar officials; military personnel; news reporters; film and media crews; performing artists; public speakers; and students working on campus.

But individuals from a country that requires a visa to visit Canada must apply for a Temporary Resident Visa (formerly called a “Visitor Visa”). These individuals may be required to undergo a medical examination before arriving.

Business visitors do not need a work permit. A business visitor is someone who comes to Canada to engage in international business activities without directly entering the Canadian labour market.

Call us

The above overview distills the gist of a complex and fluctuating set of rules and regulations about both permanent and temporary entry to Canada. If you have set up shop here or are considering it and are thinking about hiring foreign workers, you need to first become familiar with Canadian immigration laws. We can help.

The dedicated HLF team of immigration law experts can advise you on how these laws apply to your particular organisation and needs and assess your most viable options for achieving your business goals in an increasingly globalised marketplace. We are committed to helping you grow your business here.

For more information on Employing Foreign Workers, please contact us.


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