ARCHIVED – Operational Bulletin 503 - March 1, 2013

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by IRCC staff. It is posted on the department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

This document has expired. Please refer to the appropriate Program Delivery Instructions for current information.

Clarification of Volunteering in Relation to Farm Work


This Operational Bulletin (OB) is to clarify, for Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers, the definition of ‘family farm’ for the purposes of assessing if a foreign national requires a work permit based on the assessment of whether or not the activity in which the worker will be engaged meets the definition of work as per R2.


Every year foreign nationals arrive in Canada wishing to work on farms as ‘work permit exempt’ volunteers. The majority of these foreign nationals are members of the World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farms (WWOOF). WWOOF states that it is an organization that links volunteers with organic farmers and growers. They list ‘hosts’ in Canada on their website ( and volunteers (WWOOFers), both foreign and Canadian, can sign up to work for room and board with the ‘host.’

Since, there is no separation on the WWOOF website of commercial vs. non-commercial hosts or farms vs. other Eco businesses, this OB seeks to assist officers in clarifying whether the activities to be engaged in would be considered ‘work’ in Canada. This assessment is important to ensure that the volunteering activities do not take away opportunities for Canadians or permanent residents.


In relation to activities that are not considered work, the FW Manual 1 (Section 5.1) provides a number of examples. The manual further states:

“There may be other types of unpaid short-term work where the work is really incidental to the main reason that a person is visiting Canada and is not a competitive activity, even though non-monetary valuable consideration is received. For instance, if a tourist wishes to stay on a family farm and work part time just for room and board for a short period (i.e., one to four weeks), this person would not be considered a worker. Work on a farm that is expected to extend beyond four weeks would require a work permit.”

Incidental purpose:

Is the volunteering incidental to the main reason for entering Canada?

  • The farm work cannot be the main reason for entering Canada; the foreign national must have other plans for the majority of their time in Canada. Volunteering is to be secondary (incidental) to main reason (i.e., tourism, visiting family/ friends, etc.).

Commercial vs. Non-commercial (Family) farm

Commercial Farm: A commercial venture undertaken with an expectation of profit. Thus if the farm owner realistically expects to make a profit from the farming activities, this is considered a commercial farm. Commercial farms generally hire outside (steady) employees.

Non-commercial Farm: A non-commercial farm generally means a farm where the farm family provides much of the capital and labour for the farm and where the production of agricultural products is to provide for the basic needs of the family, with little extra to sell for the profit of the family. This form of farming is commonly known as ‘subsistence’, ‘hobby’ or ‘family’ farming.

Guidelines for assessing a commercial vs. a non-commercial (family) farm:

To determine if a foreign national coming to volunteer on a farm for a limited period requires a work permit, an officer should assess the farm to determine if it is commercial or non-commercial. Officers may use the questions below to assist in determining if the host is a commercial enterprise which would require a work permit supported by a Labour Market Opinion.

  • Is the destination a farm (produces an agricultural product – plant or animal) or is another form of business such as ecotourism centre, bed and breakfast (B & B), etc., which are considered ‘commercial enterprises.’
  • What is the production of the farm i.e., dairy, grains or corn, beef or pork, chicken, vegetables/fruits? For example, farms growing vegetables or fruits are likely to need extra labour during planting and harvest seasons therefore volunteers could be entering labour market.
  • What is the size of the property or yield of the crop? For example, a small 20-acre beef or pork farm may be just for the family’s use whereas, a 200-acre farm with a sheep operation and large number of turkeys is more likely to be a commercial farm.
  • What is the volume of sales? For example, selling in farmers markets generally entails less product and earns subsistence income whereas selling to Wholesalers or Grocery Chains would indicate a commercial enterprise due to the larger volumes.
  • Has the farm previously used outside help (either volunteer or paid)? Is the volunteer ‘competing’ for these positions?

Please note that this list of questions is indicators of where a host is a commercial enterprise and is not exhaustive.

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