Performing Artists and Work Permits

I was recently asked whether an opera singer working in Canada for three months requires a work permit and a Labour Market Impact Assessment.  The answer is.. it depends.

Section 186(g) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (“IRPR“) provides that:

Work Without a Work Permit

186. A foreign national may work in Canada without a work permit

(g) as a performing artist appearing alone or in a group in an artistic performance — other than a performance that is primarily for a film production or a television or radio broadcast — or as a member of the staff of such a performing artist or group who is integral to the artistic performance, if

(i) they are part of a foreign production or group, or are a guest artist in a Canadian production or group, performing a time-limited engagement, and

(ii) they are not in an employment relationship with the organization or business in Canada that is contracting for their services.

No Work Permit Required

Examples of performing artists who do not need a work permit to work in Canada include:

  • Foreign-based musical and theatrical individuals and groups and their essential crew;
  • street performers (buskers), DJs;
  • busking;
  • a foreign or traveling circus;
  • guest artists (not employed) within a Canadian performance group for a time-limited engagement;
  • wrestlers from the World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) (and similar groups);
  • persons performing at a private event for a time-limited engagement, such as a wedding;
  • air show performers;
  • conductors;
  • artists working at or attending a showcase or workshop; which may include competing, judging competitors, demonstrating their skill, and holding a class related to the showcase or
  • workshop, as well as visual artists creating or displaying their own work (normally no more than five days, although some flexibility in duration may be permitted); and
  • rodeo contestants (e.g., bronco-riders, steer-ropers, barrel racers).

Of course, in addition to meeting the above sample activities, the performing artists must also be part of a foreign production or group, or be a guest artist in a Canadian production or group, performing a time-limited engagement. As well, they cannot be in an employment relationship with the organization in Canada that is contracting for their services.  The Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC“) website, states that a “time-limited engagement” would typically be two weeks or less, however, it also states that a longer duration is possible.  In the case described at the start of this post, CIC determined that the three-month contract that the opera singer had constituted a time-limited engagement.  The CIC website does explicitly state, however, that a foreign national who rehearses and performs with a Canadian orchestra for an entire season needs a work permit.

The CIC website also has a somewhat confusing list of what scenarios would constitute an “employment relationship,” and what would not.  The threshold appears to be whether a performing artist moves beyond a short-term ‘gig’ and into a regular performance basis, usually in the same venue.  For example, the CIC website states that an employment relationship is not created where a couple hires a band to perform at their wedding, or where a festival hires a signer to perform twice in a weekend.  However, an employment relationship is created where a dinner theatre hires a foreign singer to perform five nights a week on a weekly basis for four weeks or longer, or where a city contracts a foreign puppeteer to do three shows a day in a park for the whole summer.

A Note on Bars

Canadian immigration legislation previously provided that performing artists who would be performing at bars, restaurants, or similar establishments needed a work permit.  This, however, is no longer the case.  As such, foreign artists performing in Canada for time-limited engagements are treated the same, irrespective of venue.

Work Permit Required

Examples of activities that do not constitute being a “performing artist” for the purpose of the work permit exemption include:

  • Actors, singers, crew, etc., in Canadian theatrical productions, shows, or circuses;
  • screen and television actors, unless part of a group making a motion picture under intergovernmental co-production;
  • artists involved in taped television dramatic productions and live dramatic performances that are being filmed;
  • technicians working in film theatre and television productions (with certain exceptions);
  • persons doing dubbing work in films;
  • persons making a film, videotape or sound recording for use in advertising commercials;
  • persons participating in making a motion picture or documentary, no matter who finances the project, unless they meet certain exemptions available to the news media;
  • persons temporarily occupying a permanent position at a permanent performing arts organization (i.e., those not considered to be guest artists).
  • individuals involved in making films, television, internet and radio broadcasts (with the exception of co-production agreements);
  • individuals who will be in an employment relationship with the organization or business contracting for their services in Canada;
  • performers in Canadian-based productions or shows; and
  • rodeo performers or side show workers (e.g., rodeo clowns and announcers, horsemanship or trick riding displays, ‘half-time acts’ and other specialty act entertainers).

Specific Examples, and Other Exemptions

The CIC website lists numerous examples of occupations that are similar to performing artists, and what the work permit requirements are.  This webpage is useful because it illustrates that there are a myriad of work permit and/or Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA”) exemptions that a person may be encompassed by.

For example, while an Adjudicator at a music festival would not be a performing artist, officials at international cultural festivals are specifically exempted from the requirement to obtain work permits.

A circus employee who travels with a foreign circus would not require a work permit. However, where the employer is a Canadian circus, then a work permit and LMIA will be required. An exception to this, however, is Cirque du Soleil, whose employees will typically be granted Significant Benefit work permits.

Film producers employed by foreign film or television companies coming to produce a film or documentary entirely funded from abroad are not performing artists, however, they are likely exempt from obtaining work permits as Business Visitors.

The World Wrestling Entertainment

Fans of the WWE will perhaps be interested to know how CIC treats their favourite wrestlers.  The CIC website states:

World Wrestling Entertainment

These performers and their accompanying essential crew may be authorized to enter Canada pursuant to R186(g) which includes a stipulation that the performance not be “primarily for a film production or television or radio broadcast”. While most of their staged performances are broadcast live in a pay-per-view format or filmed for later commercial broadcast, this is not considered to be the primary purpose of the performance.

A substantial portion of the WWE’s revenues from live events does stem from simultaneous or subsequent broadcast and film. However, a substantial portion is also received from ticket sales to the live events. Furthermore, if the primary intent of these performances were not to attract and entertain a live audience, then there would be no reason for the WWE to undertake the expense and inconvenience of offering a touring performance.

Note: The R186(g) exemption does not apply to any WWE workers directly involved in the film, television or radio broadcast elements of the production. This includes all WWE camera operating positions.


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