Religious work – International Mobility Program

All in-Canada visitor record, study permit and work permit applications must be submitted electronically, with some exemptions. See the list of programs that are exempt from the mandatory electronic application requirement.

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

There are two separate provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) relating to religious work:

In some cases, a foreign national may be eligible under both sections and may choose which one to apply under. Regardless, work of a religious nature typically involves the foreign national being part of, or sharing, the beliefs of the particular religious community where they will work, or having the ability to teach or share religious beliefs, as required by the employer.

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LMIA exempt under paragraph R205(d) for religious work (exemption code C50)

Paragraph R205(d) applies to foreign nationals whose work in Canada is of a religious nature. The foreign national must have an LMIA-exempt offer of employment number as part of their application.

Eligibility requirements

To determine whether an applicant is eligible under paragraph R205(d), officers must assess if the work (not the organization) is of religious nature.

The primary duties of the temporary worker should reflect a particular religious objective. For example, the worker may be expected to:

  • provide religious instruction
  • promote a particular faith
  • advance the spiritual teachings of a religious faith
  • maintain the doctrines and spiritual observances on which those teachings are based

Note: Religious leaders who are eligible for a work permit exemption under paragraph R186(l) may simultaneously be eligible for an LMIA exemption under paragraph R205(d). There may be circumstances under which the foreign national chooses to apply for the LMIA exemption, such as if they wish to stay in Canada for a longer period of time or need a work permit to be eligible for government services and benefits.

Simply being employed by a Canadian religious organization is not sufficient proof to meet the requirements for LMIA exemption under paragraph R205(d). For example, the work of an administrator or office manager in a religious organization is generally not considered to be of a religious nature. Similarly, clerical duties, accounting, gardening, etc. are not considered work of a religious nature, even if performed for a religious organization.

Officers should review the LMIA-exempt offer of employment (“Employment Details – LMIA Exempt” tab in the Global Case Management System [GCMS]) and documentation submitted in the work permit application to determine if the duties are of a religious nature.

Note: A work permit application must be refused under paragraph R200(3)(f.1) if the employer has not done the following:

  • paid the employer compliance fee, as per section R303.1 (unless the employer has been exempted from paying the fee under subsection R303.1(5))
  • submitted the offer of employment information, as per section R209.11

See Employer-specific work permits with Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) exemptions (International Mobility Program).

Processing fee

A person who works in Canada for a Canadian religious organization without remuneration is not required to pay the work permit processing fees [R299(2)(f)].

The officer processing the application must assess if a work permit fee exemption applies. In this assessment, it is the religious nature of the organization that is important, as well as whether the foreign national is remunerated.

To be fee exempt under paragraph R299(2)(f), the foreign national cannot receive remuneration other than a stipend for living expenses (see the note below), which should be, if monetary, below the minimum wage under the applicable federal, provincial or territorial law. Otherwise, the foreign national should receive only non-monetary benefits (for example, accommodation and health care). The work permit fee exemption code is E02.

Note: Foreign nationals who are provided with free room and board and receive a stipend may still qualify for a work permit processing fee exemption provided that the room and board are

  • integral to the foreign national’s ability to perform the work according to the terms set out in their employment arrangement (meaning on-site residency is a requirement of the job) and
  • non-monetized (for example, it has little or no market value, is not provided in a monetary form like an allowance, does not constitute a taxable benefit, cannot be converted into an economic payout). For example, a room in a monastery is considered to be of no market value in that it generally isn’t an option available to the public, and even if the employer were to advertise it, it’s not a “real” rental option, and it’s highly unlikely that someone genuinely looking for housing would be interested.

This assessment of remuneration should be used to determine fee exemptions for both initial work permit applications and any subsequent work permit applications.

Employer compliance fee

In accordance with subsection R303.1(5), an employer is not required to pay the employer compliance fee referred to in subsection R303.1(1) if the offer of employment is made to a foreign national who under subsection 299(2) is not required to pay a work permit processing fee.

In order to be eligible for the employer compliance fee exemption (code EC1) at the time the LMIA-exempt offer of employment is submitted, employers must show that they are a religious organization and that there is no remuneration for the work of the foreign national they intend to hire. Copying information from the religious workers instructions does not constitute evidence of their eligibility for a fee exemption.

Note: Fee-exempt employers are still subject to the employer compliance regime.

Duration of work permit

If the work permit application is approved, the work permit should be issued for the period specified in the offer of employment. Officers cannot issue a work permit or grant status as a temporary worker beyond the validity of the passport. For further guidance, please consult the instructions on Conditions and validity period for work permits (temporary workers).

Work permit issuance in the Global Case Management System (GCMS)

Under the “Application” screen, officers should confirm the following:

Case Type: 52.

Important: When the applicant selects the work permit type “Exemption from Labour Market Impact Assessment” on the application, the “Case Type” field in GCMS is set automatically to “52.” This case type should not be changed to anything else for employer-specific, LMIA-exempt work permit applications that require an offer of employment. No other case type will allow the correct linking in GCMS. Changing the case type to anything other than “52” will negatively impact the integrity of financial and program data in GCMS and may result in blocking the department’s ability to inspect employers.

Location: the city and province of destination entered by the applicant should match the address of employment in the LMIA-exempt offer of employment. This information is under the “Employment Details – LMIA Exempt” tab.

Exemption Code: C50 – this code is auto-populated from the LMIA-exempt offer of employment.

NOC: The National Occupation Classification (NOC) code is auto-populated from the LMIA-exempt offer of employment.

Intended Occupation: job title.

Employer: business operating name. This information will be auto-populated from the LMIA-exempt offer of employment.

Note: If the employer is authorized to use an IMM 5802 form instead of completing the offer of employment through the Employer Portal, please review Employer-specific work permits with Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) exemptions (International Mobility Program).

Spouses

For guidance on specific requirements to obtain a work permit for spouses, please refer to Spouses or common-law partners of skilled workers [C41].

Dependent children

For guidance on specific requirements to obtain a study permit for minors, please refer to Study permits: Guidelines on minor children.

Port of entry application process

Individuals who are otherwise eligible to make an application at a port of entry (POE) may apply for a work permit when seeking entry to Canada. All regular processes and required documentation outlined above also apply to applications made at POEs.

Validity period of the work permit

  • Border services officers (BSOs) need to ensure that all work permits are issued with the proper duration of validity, based on the purpose of entry.
  • When finalizing a pre-approved work permit, a BSO will review the notes of the approving office in GCMS disregarding the validity date on any pre-approval documents (letter, draft work permit in GCMS).
  • The BSO will update the validity date field in GCMS and issue the work permit for the maximum allowable period from the date of entry, or to the validity date of the applicant’s travel document.
  • As per IRCC biometric guidelines, the validity period of a temporary residence status document cannot extend beyond the remaining validity period of the biometric information. All biometrics provided for a temporary residence application are valid for 10 years from the date of biometrics enrolment, regardless of the outcome of the application. Just as a permit cannot be issued for a period that exceeds the validity of a passport, a permit cannot be issued that exceeds the validity of the biometrics.

Imposing conditions on the work permit (location)

  • For LMIA-exempt work permits, BSOs are required to refer to the information provided by the employer in their offer of employment, in which the employer includes a primary location and other secondary locations across Canada. In such cases, if the BSO does not have any concerns regarding imposing conditions on location, the BSO must include “various locations across Canada as per the offer of employment” in the user remarks of the work permit.
  • If the BSO determines that the location should be restricted, a note should be left in the application. Any location discrepancy between the offer and the work permit will automatically be considered as an error if there are no notes.

Religious leaders who are work permit exempt under paragraph R186(l)

Some religious workers have the flexibility to work in Canada without a work permit under paragraph R186(l) if they meet the requirements.

Main duties

Paragraph R186(l) applies to persons who are responsible for assisting a congregation or group in the achievement of its spiritual goals and whose main duties are to

  • preach doctrine
  • perform functions related to gatherings of the congregation or group or
  • provide spiritual counselling, either as an ordained minister or a member of a religious order

Other duties may include:

  • conduct of regular religious services
  • administration of rites of faiths such as marriages and funerals
  • prayer and the promotion of spirituality by delivering sermons and other religious talks
  • provision of spiritual and moral guidance to members of a religious faith

Example titles

Archbishop, bishop, cardinal, chaplain, evangelist, granthi, imam, minister, pastor, priest, rabbi.

Please note that the above list of titles is not exhaustive.

Documentary evidence

Persons seeking entry under the authority of paragraph R186(l) should be able to provide documentary evidence to support their request for entry that indicates

  1. the genuineness of the offer of employment of the religious denomination that seeks to employ them

    In exceptional cases, officers may require more information to assess the genuineness of the job offer. Examples of information that may assist in assessing the genuineness of the job offer are listed below. Please note this list is not exhaustive.

    • Certificate of Incorporation of the employer in the province or territory of destination
    • proof of registration as a charity or non-profit organization with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) under the Income Tax Act (Most religions will be registered as charities or non-profit organizations under the Income Tax Act and under provincial or territorial laws.)
    • a statement from the religious organization showing
      • date and place of founding of the religious organization
      • length of time in continuous operation in the province or territory of destination
      • description of the structure of the organization, including names and addresses of officers in the province of destination and any affiliation with a larger religious group
      • size of the adult congregation
      • number of clergy employed
      • address or regular meeting place of the congregation
      • scheduled days and hours of worship
    • copies of relevant sections of the constitution and by-laws of the religious organization that provide for the ordination, appointment and dismissal of ministers or clergy
    • financial statements for the past fiscal year
    • copy of residential lease if a residence is not supplied for the foreign national
  2. their ability to minister to a congregation under the auspices of that religious denomination

    Examples of information that may assist an officer in assessing the ability to minister to a congregation are listed below. Please note this is not a list of required documents, nor is it exhaustive.

    • proof of ordination or appointment of the foreign national
    • letter of authorization from the governing official of the denomination that includes
      • the current status of the foreign national within the denomination
      • recognition of the foreign national’s entitlement to minister to the denomination’s congregation
      • name and mailing address of church or congregation to be served
      • arrangements for remuneration or care of the foreign national
      • description of exact duties and hours to be worked

The above documentary evidence may also be considered to support work permit applications for religious workers who may be eligible for a work permit exemption under paragraph R186(l) but choose to apply for an LMIA-exempt work permit under paragraph R205(d).

Issuing visitor records at ports of entry

A BSO may issue a visitor record to a temporary resident at the POE on their arrival to Canada.

When an officer is satisfied that the foreign national meets the requirements of paragraph R186(l), they may issue a visitor record if the stay is more than 6 months or as a facilitative measure as evidence of the authority to work without a permit. See POE issuance for more information.

If the foreign national requests a visitor record and if all other requirements have been met, a BSO should issue a visitor record to the foreign national. This will verify the status of the temporary resident as work permit exempt and support their application to Service Canada for their social insurance number.

The issued visitor record should include remarks specifying the ability of the foreign national to work without a permit. Acceptable remarks that may appear on the visitor record include:

  • “Work permit exempt as a religious leader”
  • “Work permit exempt under paragraph R186(l)”

The case type code is 13, “Religious Group”.

In-Canada applicants who are work permit exempt under paragraph R186(l) and wish to extend their authorization to work with a work permit under paragraph R205(d)

Religious workers who entered Canada with authorization to work without a work permit pursuant to paragraph R186(l) may apply for a work permit after entry as per paragraph R199(b) under the paragraph R205(d) LMIA exemption. The employer in such a case is required to complete the offer of employment in the Employer Portal and pay the employer compliance fee, if required.

Spouses

For guidance on specific requirements to obtain a work permit for spouses, please refer to Spouses or common-law partners of skilled workers [C41].

Dependent children

For guidance on specific requirements to obtain a study permit for minors, please refer to Study permits: Guidelines on minor children.

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