With the globalization of commerce, the number of people travelling for business purposes is on the rise. Many will think that a business trip does not have much to do with immigration given that it may seem as simple to enter Canada for business purposes as it is to enter as a tourist. However, there are important differences and the distinction between who qualifies as a business visitor and who is considered a foreign worker is not always clear.

With the globalization of commerce, the number of people travelling for business purposes is on the rise. Many will think that a business trip does not have much to do with immigration given that it may seem as simple to enter Canada for business purposes as it is to enter as a tourist. However, there are important differences and the distinction between who qualifies as a business visitor and who is considered a foreign worker is not always clear.

The main exemption category is the business visitor. To benefit from this exemption, the company in question’s main places of business and sources of income and profits must be situated outside of Canada. Theses activities include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Purchasing Canadian goods or services on behalf of a foreign business or government
  • Taking orders for goods or services
  • Attending business meetings, conferences, conventions and fairs
  • Being trained by a Canadian parent company for which the person works outside Canada
  • Training employees of a Canadian affiliate of a foreign company
  • Being trained by a Canadian business that sold the visitor’s foreign employer equipment or services

After-sales service is also exempt from the work permit requirement, subject to certain conditions. Maintenance or repair of specialized equipment purchased or leased outside of Canada is permitted only if the service was provided for in the initial contract of sale. It is important to note that manual installation of equipment is not included and normally requires hiring local employees or obtaining work permits.

The North American Free Trade Agreement has broadened the scope of permissible activities for American or Mexican nationals to include, among others, certain activities related to research, marketing and general services. This same agreement will facilitate the obtaining of work permits for certain professionals as well as for individuals who have specialized knowledge or who hold management positions and who are transferred to a Canadian subsidiary.

In conclusion, entering Canada for business purposes must not be taken lightly and businesses would be well-advised to make sure that their employees have the appropriate status based on the purpose of their trip when travelling to Canada for business. Border officials are strict and there is strong political will to protect the labour market and to crack down on offenders.

Moreover, the federal government has announced the enactment of certain legislative amendments which provide for more severe penalties in cases involving false statements. More specifically, the period of inadmissibility to Canada will be five years instead of two. Considering that Canadian border officials have broad powers to search, a person would be very ill-advised to attempt to enter Canada under false pretenses. The classic business meetings scheduled over the next two weeks will not be very convincing if it is not adequately supported by sufficient evidence.