Volunteer work is a very complex situation to understand when it comes to immigration laws.

A lot of students and visitors wish to gain work experience while offering their volunteer work to Canadian employers. Citizenship and Immigration Canada has an issue with this and Section 2 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations define “work” as follows:

“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.

This being said, the definition of work includes unpaid work if such activity competes directly with local people, in other words, an activity could be considered work if that job is given to a foreigner instead of a Canadian based on the fact that the foreigner is not receiving any wages.

At some instances, unpaid work could be equal to human trafficking and the sanctions imposed to employers taking advantage of these situations are high.

When the person wants to make sure whether their volunteering amounts to work under Canadian law, there is a simple test for this:  

  • Does the job can be performed by a Canadian and could they get paid for this?
  • Are most of the people within the organization unpaid? If so, then the position may be considered pure volunteering.
  • Am I gaining employment experience that will allow me to enter the Canadian labor market later on and compete with Canadians directly?

The government considers whether there is entry into the labour market in the following manner:

  1. Will they be doing an activity that a Canadian citizen or permanent resident should really have an opportunity to do?
  2. 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”.

The government itself mentions the following examples as they are considered work:

  • A foreign technician coming to repair a machine, or otherwise fulfil 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.

On the other hand, volunteering work is something that a person is usually not remunerated for on a regular basis.


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