Foreign nationals who are coming to work for a Canadian charitable or religious organization could be eligible for a facilitated work authorization process. This process could consist of the work permit being exempt from the LMIA, or in certain cases the foreign national could be exempt from the work permit altogether.

The first distinction that must be made here is between actual “work”, which does require a Canadian work permit, and volunteering, which does not. “Work” is typically associated with a full-time activity that is rewarded through the payment of regular and periodic wages. Volunteering on the other hand usually consists of giving one’s free time to engage in an activity without the expectation of remuneration. Examples of such activities could be helping out a particular party, or raising awareness about a particular issue. In such situations the foreign national is not considered to be entering the Canadian labor market and a work permit is therefore not required.

Once established that “work” is being performed, other factors must be assessed to determine whether an LMIA exemption is appropriate in a given situation. First, the nature of the organization must be definitively ascertained. In order to qualify for the LMIA exemption the organization must be either charitable or religious, meaning it must be non-profit, and have as its primary goal the relief of poverty, the advancement of certain important community interests, or the benefit of educational or religious institutions. It is not an absolute requirement that the organization be a registered charity but this does help in this determination.

After the issue of nature of the organization is resolved, the nature of the work must then be assessed. Simply working for a qualifying organization is not sufficient for a foreign national to be eligible for the LMIA exemption. Instead, it must be demonstrated that the work being performed by the foreign national actually constitutes charitable or religious work. For this certain factors are taken into account, such as if the work performed by the foreign national serves to advance the charitable or religious mandate of the organization or whether the organization will benefit financially from the foreign national’s work. The more in-line this work is with the stated goal of the organization and the less the organization will receive remuneration as a result of the worker’s services, the more likely the work is to be considered charitable or religious.

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