Employers will be interested in these 12 key observations and tips for when employees travel to Canada on business. Indeed, for employers who require employees to engage in international business travel to Canada, the border is an important venue for making applications for entry on a temporary basis in situations where a work permit is required, and for consideration under a work permit exempt category. Understanding the dynamics of border or port-of-entry processing is therefore critical.

Tip #1 – Preparing Employees for Travel

Help your foreign national employees or service providers understand the Canadian immigration system prior to travel to Canada.

For example: The first government officials you will encounter when you arrive in Canada are Canada customs officers. Their job is to decide who goes into "Immigration Secondary" for further questioning/processing.

Tip #2 - Work Permit Determination

It is important to make a decision in advance of travel to Canada about whether your employees require a work permit or not.

Whether you are consulting with in-house or external legal counsel, or seeking advice from human resource professionals inside or outside of your company, get a definitive opinion on what possible immigration documents your foreign national employees may require that will allow them to lawfully carry out their activities in Canada.

If a work permit is required, your foreign national employees may be able to pick it up at the border when they arrive in Canada, or they may be required to file that application through a Canadian consulate or embassy abroad.

Tip #3 - Criminality Issues

Advise your employees that any past criminal charges or convictions may result in issues with their admittance to Canada.

In some cases, previous criminality can be overcome and admittance can be achieved through special temporary immigration pardons called Temporary Resident Permits.

Addressing these issues in advance by filing the appropriate paperwork for a Temporary Resident Permit gives the application a much better chance of success than simply relying on the discretion of an immigration officer to allow entry based on the person’s verbal account.

Tip #4 - Temporary Resident Visas

Nationals of certain prescribed countries require special entry visas called Temporary Resident Visas for even a two-hour meeting in Canada, even if they have lawful temporary status in the United States.

These visas can only be applied for at a Canadian Embassy or Consulate outside Canada and can take days/weeks to obtain.

If your employee shows up at the border and does not have the requisite Temporary Resident Visa, he or she will be denied entry to Canada even if he or she did qualify for a work permit or entry under a specific work permit exempt category.

Tip #5 - Medicals

In some cases, an immigration medical is required in advance of travel to Canada — typically if a person has been residing in a designated country such as China or Russia.

Immigration medicals are required if the person has spent six consecutive months living in one of those countries, and intends to spend six months or more in Canada.

If a person needs an immigration medical prior to entry to Canada, they are required to do all of their immigration processing through a Canadian Embassy or Consulate as opposed to the border/port. This can delay entry for weeks or months.

Tip #6 – Supporting Documentation

It is a very good idea to equip your employees (even for short stays) with some type of supporting documentation, such as a support letter that clearly explains the nature and purpose for the visit to Canada and asks for admission based on a specific work permit exempt or work permit category.

Coach your employees to read their support letters carefully in advance so that they can provide consistent answers to questions posed by Customs and Immigration Officials.

Tip #7 – Additional Supporting Materials

Certain work permit categories require additional documentation such as proof of existing business relationships with a company in Canada or a certain level of educational achievement/work experience.

If your employee is making an application in one of those categories, make sure he or she is travelling with all necessary paperwork. Failing to do so may result in the denial of the application.

Tip #8 – Canada Customs

Coach your employees to be clear and specific at the Canada Customs booth when they first arrive so that they stand the best chance of getting a correct referral into Immigration Secondary if a work permit is required, or, if they do not require a work permit, of getting referred directly into the country without a secondary examination.

For example: When asked by Customs, "What is the purpose of your trip?" The employee should truthfully state, "I am going to internal meetings with our Canadian subsidiary for two days." This gives the person a much better chance of avoiding the Immigration Secondary area than saying, "I am here for business."

It is a good idea to have, and read, the supporting documentation well in advance and to encourage employees to ask about the application and the process at port of entry. This will alleviate possible apprehension about the event, and will allow for a more credible presentation. It also places employees in a better position to advocate on their own behalf if they get an officer who doubts the validity of some or all of the submissions in the support letter after assessing the verbal responses of the applicant to see if there are any inconsistencies between what the employee states are his or her reasons for coming to Canada and what the letter purports. Understanding the process itself allows employees to avoid making mistakes like trying to apply for the permit at the primary inspection line (PIL), or being content to be erroneously admitted into the country at PIL, which eliminates their immediate ability to apply for a work permit without re-presenting themselves at the port of entry. This is particularly problematic if they are arriving via aircraft, and/or are far away from a land border.

Tip #9 – Having a Backup Plan

If a person is determined by Canada Immigration to require a work permit, and has unsuccessfully tried to argue for admission in a work permit exempt category, they might be denied entry to Canada.

It is always sensible to canvass off multiple options with your legal advisor in advance.

For example: Based on the facts, you think that the person should be able to come into Canada as a business visitor, which is a work permit exempt category, but the officer processing the case disagrees. If there is a specific work permit category that the person also fits into, the officer may entertain that and allow entry.

Tip #10 – Misrepresentation

Making any type of misrepresentation at the border, however innocent, can result in denial of entry into Canada, and in some cases, a two-year ban from the country.

There is a misconception among some that not being truthful at the border is not a big deal, but actually, this is equivalent in severity to presenting false evidence before a federal government enforcement officer and lying to a police officer.

No matter how inconvenient, always advise employees to respond to questions posed by customs and immigration officials in a completely honest manner.

Tip #11 – Port of Entry

Use the appropriate port of entry and understand the particulars of each office culture just like Visa Posts.

While this skill is primarily honed by trial and error, it is always a good idea to assess where the best places are to have your employees make their application for entry. Certain ports of entry have a more facilitative culture, or have more experience with business travellers so are more adept at processing those types of cases.

Tip #12 – Entry Refusal

Do not "venue shop" after a negative decision.

If your employee is refused entry at a particular port of entry, a good rule of thumb is not to try the same application again at another location. There are exceptions to this general rule, but usually a negative decision will be entered into the Immigration Computer in the Field Operations Support System (FOSS), and another port of entry will not look kindly on your employee trying to "sneak" into Canada by attempting to circumvent the decision of the first office. It is best to try and resolve things with the first port by discussing the case with the officer concerned, or the supervisor.

The Bottom Line

Port-of-entry processing can be a seamless facilitative venture when an application goes smoothly, but an extremely frustrating, stressful and negative experience if the application goes badly. It can result in your employee being denied entry to the country, or unduly delayed in being issued the appropriate documentation by the Canadian Border Services Agency. We hope that the practical tips advice we’ve provided will assist you in advising your employees on how to make an application and what to expect when that application is handled at the border.