Visitors to Canada cannot work in Canada without a work permit. Many visitors to Canada want to know if they can volunteer without a work permit. Sometimes the volunteer work involves a barter for services or goods, but not money. IRCC defines work as an activity that you are or could be paid for, and which takes work away from or competes with a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. Because of this, volunteer work, unpaid internships and practicums may also require work permits.
In most cases, it's a bad idea to volunteer in Canada without a work permit.
My colleague discusses the Juneja case as an example of how trying to avoid the requirement to have a work permit can lead to disastrous results:
In this case, Mr. Juneja entered Canada from India with a valid study permit. He began studying at a college in Edmonton, Alberta. It is important to note that his study permit prohibited any kind of employment.
An individual at Mr. Juneja’s school saw him working at a Ford dealership and contacted authorities. Mr. Juneja was detained and he had a hearing soon after to determine whether or not he could stay in Canada.
If those were the only facts, then this case would be pretty straightforward.
However, Mr. Juneja was not being paid at all. He was not given anything in return for his service. Rather, the Ford dealership was recording his hours, and they agreed that Mr. Juneja would be paid for his services only once he received a work permit in the future.
In essence, he was volunteering his time.
The Court found that Mr. Juneja still violated the conditions of his study permit.
It did not matter that he wasn’t being paid. The Court held that Mr. Juneja was engaged in a “performance of an activity in direct competition with the activities of Canadians and permanent residents in the Canadian labour market.”
In other words, his action of working (even for free for the time being) competed with the ability of citizens and permanent residents to work, which is prohibited under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Mr. Junja was issued an exclusion order to leave Canada.
Tips on Volunteering in Canada Without a Work Permit
Can a temporary resident without a work permit volunteer in Canada? IRCC says that there are some charitable volunteer jobs which are normally not paid, It’s best to seek legal counsel as circumstances can vary considerably.
Here are some general guidelines:
1. If the job is normally a paid position, do not volunteer for it.
If you are an accountant or computer programmer, you shouldn’t normally volunteer those skills, as typically those are paid positions.
Dishing soup in a soup kitchen is normally charity work and not normally a paid position, and you can likely volunteer in the soup kitchen without a permit under the current rules.
2. If the job is not paid but usually leads to a paid position, do not volunteer for it.
There are certain jobs that individuals normally accept with the expectation that it will lead to a paid position. Internships or other training positions may not be paid, but they may be considered to be “in direct competition” with Canadians in the labour market.
3. Do not try to invent clever schemes for alternative payment.
In the Juneja case, Mr. Juneja and the Ford dealership assumed they had avoided the work permit requirement by delaying any actual payment until Mr. Juneja obtained a work permit in the future.
The Court did not accept this. It’s not payment that is key – it’s interfering with a Canadian’s ability to perform that job. Any sort of alternate payment or barter scheme is not allowed.
4. Volunteering on non-commercial farms may not require a work permit if the farm work is not the main reason for entering Canada.
Foreign nationals volunteering on family or hobby farms in exchange for room and board for a period of up to four weeks per host do not require work permits.
5. Foreign students are required to have a work permit.
These exceptions are allowed where a work permit is not required:
- on-campus employment
- health care students doing an internship or practicum to acquire training may be unpaid and but not be of more than 4 months’ duration
It’s a good idea to consult an immigration lawyer if you have questions about volunteering in Canada without a work permit.
This post does not constitute legal advice – you should consult with a lawyer so he or she can evaluate your unique circumstances and application materials.