Foreign nationals (anyone who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident) may need or want to enter Canada on a temporary basis. They can do so as tourists, business visitors, workers, or students. Depending on the nature and purpose of their stay in Canada, foreign nationals will be issued a status document, such as a visitor record, or a work or study permit, which will authorize their temporary stay in Canada for a limited period. A status document allows a foreign national to be present in Canada, but does not authorize travel.
A visa, for those who require one, is necessary for travel, irrespective of the purpose or duration of stay. The visa application is made at a Canadian consulate or embassy abroad and, upon issuance, the visa is pasted into a foreign national’s passport, in addition to the status document.
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Foreign nationals coming to Canada for vacation are considered tourists and are not generally issued any documentation upon arrival in Canada. Foreign nationals entering for commercial purposes such as attending meetings and specific work activities will be authorized entry as business visitors and issued a visitor record. This ensures that they are documented in the system, with a defined exit date. Whether entering for business or personal reasons, the onus is on the applicant to demonstrate genuine visitor intent. Documentation such as invitation letters, return tickets, accommodation reservations, and trip schedules are recommended to demonstrate visitor intent.
Working in Canada
If a foreign national is coming to Canada to perform work they must obtain a work permit, unless they meet business visitor exemption criteria. For foreign nationals who require a visa, the application must be made at a visa office in advance of travel; however, visa exempt nationals may apply directly at the port of entry. There are several categories under which a work permit may be applied.
A work permit generally requires a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) in order to confirm that the hiring of a foreign national will not negatively impact the Canadian labour market. This is done by way of employers advertising the position on a national scale, for at least one month. If the employer finds that no Canadian citizen or permanent resident has the skill set required to perform the duties of the job, then a LMIA application can be made to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). If ESDC confirms that the employer has done its due diligence in testing the Canadian market, the assessing officer will issue a positive LMIA. At this point, the foreign national may apply for the work permit at a visa post or the port of entry, as per his/her citizenship requirements.
Although the rule for obtaining a work permit is that one must first obtain a LMIA, there are some exceptions. Exemptions include Free Trade Agreements, Intra-Company Transfers, and Canadian Interests.
Free Trade Agreements: Canada has entered into Free Trade Agreements (“FTAs”) with the US/Mexico (NAFTA), Chile (CCFTA), Colombia (CCoFTA), Korea, (CKFTA), Peru (CPFTA), and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). These Agreements allow for easier movement for citizens of the member states into Canada. They also focus on professionals, who hold baccalaureate level degrees, and who are coming for specific work assignments in Canada. The Agreements vary on how many professions are listed, but common fields include Engineering, Accounting, Computer Science, and Consulting. Work permit durations and eligibility requirements vary according to the Agreement. Citizens who require visas to enter Canada must still apply at a visa office in advance of travelling to Canada.
Intra-Company Transferees: Canadian businesses, with global affiliates/parent/subsidiaries, are able to transfer their specialized workers or managers from the foreign entity into the Canadian division, under the Intra-Company transfer category. The employee generally must have at least one year of full-time employment in a similar position with the company abroad, and be undertaking a specialized or managerial role in Canada. Work permits can be issued in increments of one year for an intermittent traveler, or up to three years initially for a full-time employee. The overall duration of stay is five years for specialized workers, and seven years for managers. Citizens who require visas to enter Canada must still apply at a visa office in advance of travelling to Canada; visa exempt citizens may apply at the port of entry.
Canadian Interests: Sometimes employment situations present an overall benefit to the Canadian society/culture/economy, such that it outweighs the need for a LMIA. The Canadian Interests category therefore provides several additional avenues for LMIA exemption. Among the most frequently used options are: Reciprocal Employment (youth mobility and academic exchange programs), emergency repairs, spousal work permits, and Significant Benefit. Each program has specific eligibility requirements and duration periods. Citizens who require visas to enter Canada must still apply at a visa office in advance of travelling to Canada; visa exempt citizens may apply at the port of entry.
Studying in Canada
Foreign nationals who wish to attend an eligible Canadian educational institution (university, college, vocational school) for more than six months, must hold a study permit. Study permit applications are made at a visa office in advance of travelling to Canada, except for US citizens who are eligible to apply at the port of entry. Applications must include a letter of acceptance from an approved Canadian institution and the applicant must demonstrate that they have sufficient funds to support their stay in Canada. Holding a valid study permit allows for part-time on-campus or off-campus work without the need for a work permit.
Admissibility to Canada
Foreign nationals may be inadmissible to Canada if they have criminal, medical or other issues. A foreign national may be considered inadmissible on medical grounds if they have a condition that may pose a risk to public health or safety, or that may cause an excessive demand on the Canadian health care system. A foreign national may be considered inadmissible on criminal grounds if they have committed either serious or minor crimes, including DUI, theft, and mischief. If a foreign national believes he/she may be inadmissible, it is best to seek advice from an immigration professional before attempting entry to Canada. BDO Immigration Services can assist in assessing the applicant’s situation in order to determine how they can potentially overcome any inadmissibility issues.
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