Temporary Foreign Worker and International Mobility Programs: What is work?

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

The Regulations specify that the worker class is a class of persons who may become temporary residents. A worker may be authorized to work without a work permit under R186, or may be authorized to work by the issuance of a work permit pursuant to Part 11 of the Regulations.

Definition of “work” [R2]

“Work” is defined in the Regulations as an activity for which wages are paid or commission is earned, or that competes directly with activities of Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the Canadian labour market.

“Wages or commission”

This includes salary or wages paid by an employer to an employee, remuneration or commission received for fulfilling a service contract, or any other situation where a foreign national receives payment for performing a service.

What is an activity that “competes directly”?

Officers should consider whether there is entry into the labour market. Questions to consider:

  • Will they be doing an activity that a Canadian or permanent resident should really have an opportunity to do?
  • Will they be engaging in a business activity that is competitive in the marketplace?

If the answer to either of these questions is ’yes‘, the foreign national intends to engage in a competitive activity, which would be considered “work”.

Examples of “work” include, but are not limited to:

  • a foreign technician coming to repair a machine, or otherwise fulfill a contract, even when they will not be paid directly by the Canadian company for whom they are doing the work;
  • self-employment, which could constitute a competitive economic activity such as opening a dry- cleaning shop or fast-food franchise. (A self-employed person may also be considered to be working if they receive a commission or payment for services);
  • unpaid employment undertaken for the purpose of obtaining work experience, such as an internship or practicum normally done by a student.

What kind of activities are not considered to be “work”?

  • An activity which does not really 'take away' from opportunities for Canadians or permanent residents to gain employment or experience in the workplace is not “work” for the purposes of the definition.

Examples of activities for which a person would not normally be remunerated or which would not compete directly with Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the Canadian labour market and which would normally be part-time or incidental to the reason that the person is in Canada include, but are not limited to:

  • volunteer work for which a person would not normally be remunerated, such as sitting on the board of a charity or religious institution; being a 'big brother' or 'big sister' to a child; being on the telephone line at a rape crisis centre (normally this activity would be part time and incidental to the main reason that a person is in Canada);
  • unremunerated help by a friend or family member during a visit, such as a mother assisting a daughter with childcare, or an uncle helping his nephew build his own cottage;
  • long distance (by telephone or Internet) work done by a temporary resident whose employer is outside Canada and who is remunerated from outside Canada;
  • self-employment where the work to be done would have no real impact on the labour market, nor really provide an opportunity for Canadians. Examples include a U.S. farmer crossing the border to work on fields that he owns, or a miner coming to work on his own claim;
  • short-term educational exchanges by high school students through international arrangements, such as the Regional Joint Cooperation Commission between Atlantic Canada and the archipelago of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.

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.

See also: Assessing farm work

We recognize that there may be overlap in activities that we do not consider to be work and those activities which are defined as work not requiring a work permit in R186. However, the net effect (no work permit required) is the same.

Part 9, Division 3 - Work without a permit

R186 and R187 describe the types of work which a foreign national is authorized to do without having to obtain a work permit.

Part 11, Division 2 - Application for work permit

The general rule is that a foreign national must apply outside Canada for their work permit, however, R198 and R199 describe the situations where a work permit may be obtained at the POE or within Canada, respectively.

Part 11, Division 3 - Issuance of work permits

R200 outlines all of the criteria and provides authority for the issuance of a work permit. R203 to R209 provide the eligibility criteria.

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