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Hiring internationally in the film & television industry: 5 things you should know

Author Brendan Sheridan, an Immigration Lawyer in our Halifax Office, will be running a related webinar on May 30, 2023, Avoiding immigration bloopers: A webinar for the film & television industry, in partnership with Screen Nova Scotia.


By: Brendan Sheridan

While the pandemic and related restrictions certainly contributed to a decline in the number of film and television productions in the province, the industry has shown significant growth over the past several years. Most recently, the film industry contributed over $180 million to the Nova Scotia’s economy in 2021-2022, up from $78 million in 2019-2020 and $91 million in 2020-2021.[1] It is expected that 2023 will be a similarly busy year for the film industry in Nova Scotia.[2]

With the growing number of Canadian and foreign productions filming in Nova Scotia, it is increasingly important for members of the industry to be aware of immigration requirements and options for foreign workers. We highlight five quick facts below that are helpful to keep front of mind when seeking to hire a foreign worker in the film and television industry:

1. Change in National Occupational Classification Code Skill Level for Actors: In November 2022, the Government of Canada replaced the 2016 National Occupational Classification Codes (“NOC”) with the 2021 NOC Codes. Occupations are now categorized using Training, Education, Experience and Responsibilities (“TEER”) categories 0 to 5, and this change has impacted various immigration routes. As part of this change, the NOC code for Actors was changed from a “Professional” level (skill level “A”) to a TEER 3 level occupation. While Actors are still considered to be a “skilled” occupation, they can no longer benefit from Global Skills Strategy 15- or 30-day short-term work permit exemption. This short-term work permit exemption is only available to occupations falling within TEER levels 0 and 1. Therefore, film and television productions will need to consider alternative work permit options for foreign national actors seeking short-term entry to Canada to take part in productions.

2. Stricter Assessment of Television and Film Production Workers Work Permit (C14) Requirements: The Television and Film Production Workers Work Permit category has been in place since 2016. This work permit category allows foreign nationals who are in essential positions in the television and film industry to apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA”)-exempt work permit. In 2021, the eligibility criteria for this work permit pathway were updated to implement stricter requirements. Where the previous eligibility requirements provided more flexibility, the current iteration of the criteria require the following:

    • The production must be a live-action television or film project.
    • The production must be in the production stage (filming). Pre- and post-production work does not meet the requirements of this work permit category.
    • The position must be high-wage – this means that the foreign national must be remunerated at a level meeting or exceeding the median wage for the province.
    • Proof that the position is unionized must be provided as it demonstrates that the employment of the foreign national is critical to the production occurring in Canada.

3. LMIA Advertisement Exemption for the Entertainment Sector: Foreign workers in the film and television industry that do not qualify for a LMIA-exempt work permit or work permit exemption generally need their employer to obtain a LMIA to support their work permit. Typically, LMIA applications require employers to undertake recruitment efforts to demonstrate there are no suitably qualified Canadian or permanent resident workers available for the position they are seeking to fill with a foreign national. The recruitment efforts must be ongoing for at least a 4-week period. That said, there is a variation to the recruitment requirements for the entertainment sector. Specifically, employers do not have to undertake recruitment efforts where they can demonstrate the position is for an occupation in the entertainment sector where a worker is hired for a very limited number of days, in a specific location, and on very short notice. This advertisement exemption could apply to musicians, film directors for feature films or commercials, key actors, and film or television crew for short productions or commercials.

4. Performing Artist Work Permit Exemption (s. 186(g) of the Immigration Refugee Protection Regulations): While not directly targeting the film and television industry, this provision allows qualifying performing artists to temporarily work in Canada without first obtaining a work permit. Foreign performing artists may qualify for this work permit exemption if they are appearing alone or in a group in an artistic performance. It is also available to members of the artist’s staff who are integral to the artist’s artistic performance.

Among other criteria, this provision states that the artistic performance cannot be primarily for a film production or a television radio broadcast. A strict reading of this provision would suggest guest artists coming to perform on Canadian television or radio would not be eligible. However, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) has guidance suggesting a broader interpretation is intended.[3] Specifically, the IRCC guidance clarifies that musical guests coming to perform on a television broadcast may fit under this provision, given the musician would not be integral to the show and would not have a stake in the broadcast itself. Anyone coming to act or sing a regular part in a television series, however, would not fall under this category and would likely require a work permit.

5. Timelines of Immigration Applications Vary: Certain foreign nationals may be eligible to apply for their work permits at the border upon entry whereas other foreign nationals must apply online and be approved prior to travelling to Canada. This distinction depends on the applicant’s nationality and whether they are visa-exempt or visa-required. This is an important consideration as online applications can take several weeks to several months to be processed depending on the location of the relevant visa office, while border applications are generally assessed and processed within several minutes to several hours. Visa-required foreign nationals do not have the flexibility to apply at the border upon entry in most cases, so productions must be aware of the additional processing time required before the individual can enter and begin work in Canada.

With the expectation of another banner year for the Nova Scotia film and television industry, productions should consider the involvement of any foreign nationals well in advance of filming and should seek advice to understand possible routes and associated timelines.

If you have further questions about these programs or are an employer seeking to support your workers, please contact a member of our Immigration Group.


This client update is provided for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about the above, please contact the authors.

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[1] Government Invests in Film Industry Growth: https://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20220308002#:~:text=the%20film%20industry%20contributed%20about,Incentive%20Fund%20in%202021%2D22

[2] N.S. film, TV industry anticipating another banner production season: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/film-tv-productions-nova-scotia-incentive-fund-politics-1.6741049

[3] Artistic and performing arts occupations – Authorization to work without a work permit (International Mobility Program): https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/temporary-residents/foreign-workers/work-without-permit/arts/occupations.html#guest-artists

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