Canada: Hiring Foreign Workers In Canada

Last Updated: December 23 2011
Article by Brian D. Portas

Businesses in Canada's North cite employment and business immigration as a critical business issue. It is a reality of many businesses in the Territories that they require foreign workers for at least part of their staffing complement. However, before you make an offer of employment to a foreign worker, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Generally speaking, an individual who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada must obtain a work permit before working in Canada. In immigration law, "work" is defined as an 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. Work also includes a technician coming to Canada from the United States to conduct repairs, or perform a contract, even if he or she will not be paid directly by the Canadian company for whom he or she is doing the work.

Before the foreign worker can apply for a work permit, the Canadian company must first obtain a positive Labour Market Opinion (LMO) from Service Canada, unless the employee falls under a specific exemption category from the LMO process. The processing times for an LMO application vary in each area of Canada. For example, it could take 10-12 weeks to process an LMO application for NWT or Nunavut. The Canadian company must also demonstrate it made efforts to recruit a Canadian citizen or permanent resident before submitting the LMO application. Once a LMO is issued by Service Canada, the foreign worker must provide a copy of it when applying to Citizenship and Immigration Canada for a work permit.

NAFTA exemptions to the LMO requirements include such occupations as accountants, architects and engineers, to name a few.

Workers may qualify for entry to Canada as business visitors (and thus, not need a work permit) if they are foreign nationals engaging in international business activities in Canada, without directly entering the Canadian labour market. Examples include after-sales service such as repairing and servicing, supervising installers, and setting up and testing commercial or industrial equipment (including computer software).

Even if the foreign worker has been provided a copy of the positive LMO for his position or it can be demonstrated that an LMO is not required, the foreign worker may still not qualify for a work permit or be prevented from entering Canada. Such workers must still demonstrate to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) or immigration officer at the port of entry (i.e. airport or border crossing) that they have the qualifications required for the position and must not pose a criminal, security or health risk to Canadians. For example, a citizen of the United States with an impaired driving conviction could be considered "criminally inadmissible" and be denied entry.

Applicants from visa-exempt countries who have a positive LMO, or who qualify under an LMO exemption category, may be able to apply directly at the port of entry (i.e. airport or border crossing). Port of entry applications can significantly speed up the application process if the Canadian company needs the foreign worker in a hurry.

Canadian work permits differ from visas. A visa in Canada is normally a reference to Temporary Resident Visas, or "TRVs". Citizens of some countries (such as Mexico) are required to obtain a TRV in order to enter Canada. This is in addition to any work permit requirements and must be applied for prior to entering Canada.

It can take 4-6 weeks for a TRV and work permit to be processed at a visa office. Some applicants may also be required to undergo a medical exam before entering Canada. If a medical exam is required by the local visa office, the processing times would be even longer.

In summary, a worker coming from the United States may encounter a number of issues that could result in a denial of his or her entry into Canada. Business immigration rules in this country are numerous and sometimes complex, but they aren't insurmountable.

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