Depending on the kind of religious work to be done in Canada and the ultimate immigration goal (temporary or permanent), immigration strategies for religious workers will vary.
Lowe & Company has a long history of working with churches and other religious organizations. We have been honoured to speak at the National Conference for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, publish articles on immigration/citizenship issues for foreign religious workers, guide many pastors and missionaries through the process of establishing a Canadian based ministry, and helping these ministries bring in the right people for the mission. We understand this unique line of work.
Work Permit Exemptions
Immigration Regulation 186(L) allows a foreign national to work in Canada without a work permit when the main duties are “spiritual”. Immigration Regulation 186(l) reads:
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;
This has three components:
- “Assisting a congregation or group“
- “In the achievement of its spiritual goals“
- “Whose main duties are to preach doctrine, perform functions related to gatherings of the congregation or group or provide spiritual counselling”
An evangelist like Billy Graham, for example, would rely on this exemption for a week-long crusade, as would an overseas pastor serving a 2-year term in a local church. The religious worker is entitled to be paid for work which falls within this exemption.
Obtaining proper documentation under this exemption is important, as it may allow the worker to qualify for medical insurance, to access free public schooling for children, and to obtain a spousal work permit. A spousal work permit may be integral for qualifying for immigration as it is now difficult to obtain immigration under a work permit exemption.
We have assisted clergymen from many countries to work in Canada, including the USA, China, Korea, the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Egypt, Nigeria and many others.
Work Permit Options
Foreign nationals who intend to work in a charitable organization performing other “non-spiritual” duties will usually require a work permit. There are several ways to obtain one, including:
Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA”):
A Canadian employer can apply to Service Canada for a LMIA stating that the position offered to a foreign worker would not have a negative effect on the Canadian labour market. The foreign national employee can then apply for a work permit for that position.
Religious and Charitable Workers Exemption:
Immigration Regulation 205(d) reads: “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 duties performed by the individual must be of a charitable or religious nature that helps to relieve poverty, or benefit the community, educational or religious institutions.
In the past, Canadian immigration policy took the position that R 205(d) workers could not be paid, except for a small stipend, limiting the usefulness of this provision. Our firm successfully challenged this interpretation in Federal Court, which was instrumental in amending the policy to allow payment to these workers.
A work permit can be obtained for a foreign religious or charitable group wanting to:
- establish a Canadian branch, or
- transfer a senior executive, senior manager, or person with specialized knowledge to an existing Canadian branch.
The transferee must have worked with the foreign branch for at least 1 year in the previous 3 years. This provision is very useful for parachurch organizations, Christian denominations, or other groups transferring administrative personnel to Canada.
Free Trade Agreement (“FTA”):
Some professionals hired by Canadian charitable organizations may be able to obtain FTA-based work permits. This allows the Canadian employer to avoid having to advertise the position and minimum salary requirements commonly found with other work permits. This is a useful tool for ministries that often cannot afford market wages for professionals.
Permanent Residence Options
Religious Workers may have several options to apply for Permanent Residence for themselves and their families, including but not limited to the Express Entry system governed Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Canadian Experience Class in addition to Provincial Nominee Programs in some provinces. As most of these programs are points based and invitation only, Religious Workers can face challenges that need to be strategized for early in the process. We have experience assessing these strategies and can help guide churches, other religious organizations and religious workers towards feasible pathways.