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Bringing top talent to Canada’s educational institutions

Kathleen Leighton and Brittany Trafford

Canada’s higher education institutions power innovation and contribute to economic growth through research and development efforts, collaborations with government and industry and the provision of world-class educational programming to develop bright and forward-thinking young minds. Consequently, universities and colleges alike are continually working to attract renowned scholars, academics and other top talent to their campuses to help drive these endeavors.

Often, the talent sought is found abroad, which brings immigration issues into play. If an educational institution wants to bring a foreign national to Canada for a particular work-related purpose, it must be considered whether the individual will actually be engaging in “work” and whether a work permit will be required. Like any other employer, educational institutions must be mindful that they are only employing individuals who have proper authorization to work in Canada.

In recognition of the challenges educational institutions meet in this regard and the benefits of attracting foreign talent, the Government of Canada has made various routes available for individuals coming to work in the education sector in Canada. Below, we provide an overview of some relevant options.

Non-work activities

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations define “work” as an activity:

  1. For which wages are paid or commission is earned; or
  2. That competes directly with activities of Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the Canadian labour market.

Therefore, it is possible an individual may come to Canada to engage in certain activities that fall within the scope of visitor status. They are not workers, and do not require a work permit. They may however want to obtain a visitor record to help document their status in Canada.

Work that does not require a work permit

There are also a number of categories of foreign workers who are considered to be “working” in Canada, but who still do not require a work permit, including a few categories particularly relevant to the education sector:

  1. Full-time students who will work on the campus of the university or college they attend during the period they hold a study permit for that school;
  2. Guest speakers delivering a speech or paper at a function (i.e. a dinner, graduation, or convention);
  3. Seminar leaders delivering a seminar that will be five days or less in duration; and
  4. Examiners or evaluators of research proposals and university projects, programs, or theses.

Global Skills Strategy

The Global Skills Strategy provides a work permit exemption for two types of workers if they are engaging in short-term work, namely:

  1. Highly skilled workers in certain occupations (usually managers and professionals) who will enter Canada for up to:
    1. 15 days in a 6 month period; or
    2. 30 days in a 12 month period; and
  2. Researchers performing research at a Canadian and publicly funded degree-granting institution (or affiliated research institution) working for 1 to 120 days in a 12 month period.

Regarding the high-skilled workers exemption, this can include various professionals in natural and applied sciences and health professions, as well as:

  • University professors and post-secondary assistants;
  • College and other vocational instructors;
  • Librarians, archivists, conservators and curators; and
  • Creative and performing artists.

Work that does require a work permit

Some individuals coming to Canada will engage in work that does require a work permit. A work permit can be obtained through one of the following programs:

  1. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (“TFWP”):
    • Employers obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA”) to hire a foreign worker, which will support the foreign worker’s work permit application; and
  1. The International Mobility Program (“IMP”):
    • Employers can hire a foreign worker without an LMIA, but the foreign worker must still obtain a work permit through one of the IMP’s various categories of LMIA-exempt work permits. The employer must make an Employer Compliance Submission, along with paying the applicable fee to support the work permit application.

The TFWP is often thought of as the “default” route to a work permit. It is not aimed at any particular type of worker. The IMP program, however, has a number of work permit categories that are LMIA-exempt, some of which are more relevant to the education sector:

  1. NAFTA (soon to be USMCA/CUSMA) professionals, including:
    • librarians,
    • research assistants in post-secondary educational institutions, and
    • university teachers;
  1. Guest lecturers and visiting professors on academic exchange where reciprocal employment opportunities can be demonstrated;
  2. Research chair positions at a Canadian university nominated for their research excellence and partially or wholly funded by federal or provincial governments; and
  3. Post-doctoral fellows awarded a PhD and research award recipients.

Summary

Ultimately, there are many routes to consider that are directly aimed at individuals who will work at educational institutions in Canada. These are only a few of the most relevant options for the education sector, but there are also a number of more general options, including permanent residency routes, that also provide the opportunity to obtain a work permit. Educational institutions must also factor in the timing of visa and work permit applications when bringing someone to Canada, and ensure the individual has proper documentation, regardless of whether a work permit is required.

Our immigration group would be pleased to provide educational institutions and/or individuals seeking to come to Canada to work in the education sector with a tailored strategy to obtain the necessary work authorization, whether that be a permit or admission under a work permit exemption.


This article is provided for general information only. If you have any questions about the above, please contact a member of our Immigration group.

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