Religious Workers and Work Permits

There are generally two types of religious workers who seek entry to Canada to work. The first are clergy (which includes Buddhist monks, Sikh granthis, rabbis, priests, preachers, pastors, etc.) whose employment in Canada will consist mainly of preaching doctrine, presiding at religious functions, or providing spiritual counselling.  Section 186(l) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (“IRPR“) provides that such people may work in Canada without a work permit.  IRPR r. 186(l) states:

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

(l) as a person who is responsible for assisting a congregation or group in the achievement of its spiritual goals and whose main duties are to preach doctrine, perform functions related to gatherings of the congregation or group or provide spiritual counselling;

Generally, applicants applying to work in Canada without a work permit under IRPR r. 186(l) need to demonstrate that they have a genuine offer of employment from the religious denomination that seeks to employ them, that the organization employing them can provide for their care and support, and that they are able to minister to a congregation under the auspices of that congregation’s denomination.

To demonstrate this, applicants should provide the following documents, where applicable:

  • Certificate of Incorporation of the employer;
  • Proof of registration as a charity or non-profit;
  • Statement from the religious organization showing:
    • the date and place of founding of the religious organization;
    • length of time in continuous operation in the province or territory of destination;
    • description of the structure of the organization;
    • copies of relevant corporate and society documents;
    • financial statements;
    • copy of residential lease if a residence is not supplied to the foreign national; and
    • other documents which establish the relationship between the religious denomination and the religious worker.

The second type of religious workers are people who are entering Canada to perform charitable or religious work.  Depending on the circumstances, such individuals may be exempt from the Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA“) process, if they are carrying out duties for a Canadian religious or charitable organization and the duties themselves are of a charitable or religious nature (e.g., teachers assistants supplied by a charitable organization to a school because funds were not available to the school to hire).  These individuals can apply for a work permit pursuant to IRPR r. 205(d), which provides that:

205. A work permit may be issued under section 200 to a foreign national who intends to perform work that

(d) is of a religious or charitable nature.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Guidelines (“TFWG“) provide that an individual may be considered to be engaging in charitable or religious work if they meet the following conditions:

  • the duties performed by the individual must be of a charitable or religious nature that help to relieve poverty, or benefit the community, educational or religious institutions. As well, IRCC has updated its manual to specifically include camps that provide programs and services to children and youth who have physical or mental disabilities or who are economically disadvantaged;
  • the organization or institution which is sponsoring the foreign worker will not, itself, receive direct remuneration from any source on behalf of, or for, the services rendered by the foreign worker; and
  • the work goes above and beyond normal work in the labour market, whether remunerated in some manner or not, for example: organizations which gather volunteer workers to paint or repair the houses of the poor may qualify, provided that 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 disabled people on almost a 24-hour basis.) persons who are giving their time to community or religious organizations in a position which would not represent a real employment opportunity for Canadians or permanent residents. (Though it is not mandatory, such work normally entails a requirement for the foreign national to be part of or share the beliefs of the particular religious community where they will work, or to have the ability to teach or share other religious beliefs, as required by the employer..)

The following is an example of an approval under IRPR r. 205(d).  I note that this was not one of my files, as it is not my practice to post my files on this blog.  Rather, this example of an approval was obtained through an Access to Information Act request.

charitablework

It is important to note that a non-profit organization is not necessarily a charitable one.  A charitable organization has a mandate to relieve poverty, or benefit the community, educational, or religious institutions.  While most of these cases are linked to registered charities, being a registered charity with the Canada Revenue Agency is not a mandatory requirement.  Such organizations will face greater scrutiny, however, in determining whether their mandate is to help relieve poverty, benefit the community, educational, or religious institutions.

Of course, foreign nationals seeking to enter Canada to perform religious work may also apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment if they do not meet one of the above two requirements.

Tips

The following are 6 useful tips for foreign nationals who are considering entering Canada to perform religious work.

  • When you are applying make it clear that you are applying under either IRPR r. 186 or under IRPR r. 205.  Even if you are eligible for Permit A, but you request Permit B, then Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is not under any duty to provide you with Permit A: Sharma v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2014 FC 786
  • While religious workers from visa-exempt foreign countries do not need to apply for a visa from outside Canada to work in Canada without a work permit under R186L, they do need to satisfy Port of Entry officers that they meet the requirements of R186L.
  • One of the larger issues that applicants face is whether the employer can support them in Canada.  If the religious organization is small, it is not uncommon for officers to request supporting financial documents.
  • Even if you are eligible to work in Canada without a work permit pursuant to IRPR r. 186(l) you may want to obtain one nonetheless.  Some advantages of having a work permit include the possibility of open work permits for spouses and children, access to provincial health care, dependent children being exempted from having to obtain a study permits, and more.
  • There are several documents which can be useful to show the genuineness of the job offer, including a certificate of incorporation, proof of registration as a charity under the Income Tax Act, copies of the Constitution, financial statements, and proof of ordination.
  • I always recommend that people at least provide a letter from the Canadian religious organization.  Statements from the religious organization should mention the date and place of founding of the religious organization, the length of time in continuous operation in the province, a description of the structure of the organization, the size of the adult congreation, the number of clery employed, the address of the regularl emeting place, schedule fo worship.

Permanent Residency

It is important that people who work under IRPR r. 186(l) not exceed the duties described in that section, which are being responsible for assisting a congregation or group in the achievement of its spiritual goals and whose main duties are to preach doctrine, perform functions related to gatherings of the congregation or group or provide spiritual counselling.  In Kaur v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), for example, the Federal Court found that a religious worker who was working in Canada under IRPR r. 186(l) had exceeded her duties by essentially being a religious teacher in a classroom setting at a religious institution. The Federal Court accordingly found that the work experience was unauthorised, and that the foreign national could not count that work experience towards the Canadian Experience Class.


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