Last Updated on March 6, 2013 by Steven Meurrens


Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC“) has released Operational Bulletin 503 – Clarification of Volunteering in Relation to Farm Work (“OB-503“).  The Temporary Foreign Worker Manual provides that if a tourist wishes to stay on a family farm and work part time just for room and board for a short period then this is not considered work, and a work permit is not required.  Work on a farm that is expected to last beyond four weeks, however, requires a work permit.

OB-503 elaborates on this.  It specifies that the volunteering on the farm must be incidental to the reason the individual seeks to enter Canada.  Farm work cannot be the main reason for entering Canada.  An individual must have other plans for the majority of their time in Canada (such as tourism, visiting family, visiting friends, etc.)

It also specifies that if the foreign national seeks to volunteer at a commercial farm, than a work permit is required.  A commercial farm is a commercial venture undertaken with the expectation of profit.  A non-commercial farm generally means a farm where the farm family provides much of the capital and labour for the farm, and where the production of agricultural products is to provide for the basic needs of the family, with little extra to sell for the profit of the family. It is commonly known as “subsistence” or “family” farming.

OB-503 then lists the following factors which are relevant to determining whether a work permit supported by a Labour Market Opinion is required.

  • Is the destination a farm (produces an agricultural product – plant or animal) or is it another form of business such as an ecotourism centre, bed and breakfast (B & B), etc.  The latter are considered ‘commercial enterprises,’ and volunteering at them will require a work permit supported by a Labour Market Opinion.
  • What is the production of the farm i.e., dairy, grains or corn, beef or pork, chicken, vegetables/fruits?  Farms growing vegetables or fruits are likely to need extra labour during planting and harvest seasons therefore volunteers could be entering labour market, which would require a Labour Market Opinion supported work permit.
  • What is the size of the property or yield of the crop? While a small 20-acre beef or pork farm may be just for the family’s use, a 200-acre farm with a sheep operation and large number of turkeys is more likely to be a commercial farm.
  • What is the volume of sales? Selling in farmers markets generally entails less product and earns subsistence income whereas selling to Wholesalers or Grocery Chains would indicate a commercial enterprise due to the larger volumes.
  • Has the farm previously used outside help (either volunteer or paid)?
  • Is the volunteer ‘competing’ for these positions?