Defining charitable or religious work

By Sukhram Ramkissoon

A recent bulletin on the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada website contains policy and procedures with respect to charitable and religious work in Canada.

There is a difference between a charitable worker who needs a work permit and a volunteer worker who is work-permit exempt. The difference is based on the definition of “work” and entry into the labour market.

volunteer worker, whose activity is incidental to their main purpose for entering Canada and does not meet the definition of work, does not require a work permit (e.g., being a Big Brother or Big Sister to a child, being on the telephone line at a rape crisis centre, canvassing for donations).

charitable worker usually takes a position involving an activity that meets the definition of work and requires a work permit because they are participating in a competitive activity or are being paid wages (e.g., group home worker, carpenter for Habitat for Humanity).

Paragraph 205(d) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) applies to foreign nationals whose work in Canada will be of a charitable or religious nature, regardless of whether a wage is received.

Simply being employed by a Canadian religious or charitable organization is not sufficient to meet the requirements for this Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) exemption. For example, an administrator or office manager’s work in a charitable organization is generally not of a charitable nature. Similarly, the primary work of a cook for a religious camp or of an accountant for a religious organization is not of a religious nature.

Charitable purposes are the relief of poverty, advancement of education or certain other purposes that benefit the community.

While being a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)-registered charity is not a requirement, if an organization is registered, it may be an indication that the type of work performed on behalf of that organization is indeed charitable in nature. For non-profit organizations and other organizations not registered with the CRA, officers may request additional information from the prospective employer to determine if the work is of a charitable nature.

Officers should consider the following factors in determining whether a person will be engaging in charitable work:

  • Whether the work performed by the individual will help relieve poverty, advance education or meet specific community needs, for example, cooking at homeless shelters, being a teacher’s assistant supplied by a charitable organization to a school because funds are not available for the school to hire;
  • Whether the organization or institution employing the foreign worker will receive direct remuneration for the services rendered by the foreign worker (employers are considered to be receiving direct remuneration if they are paid or receive a benefit for thespecific duties performed by the foreign national, such as a charitable organization receiving a payment for painting public buildings and hiring a foreign national to do the painting);
  • Whether the work goes above and beyond normal work in the labour market, whether the foreign national is remunerated in some manner or not, for example, work for organizations that gather volunteer workers to paint or repair low-income housing, provided the work would not otherwise be done (i.e., if the recipients of this work are not able to hire a professional or do the work themselves);
  • L’Arche, which relies on people to live full time in a group home with people who have developmental disabilities (workers in the homes are remunerated, but they are committed to taking care of the people who have developmental disabilities on an almost 24-hour basis) and
  • Community organizations in a position that does not represent a real employment opportunity for Canadians or permanent residents.

Next week l will be discussing religious work.


Sukhram Ramkissoon is a member of ICCRC and specializes in immigration matters at 3089 Bathurst St., Suite 219A, Toronto. Phone 416-789-5756.