Can an American married to a Canadian work temporarily in Canada?
March 7, 2017 11:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm a professor at a US institution. I have dual citizenship in both the US and Canada. My wife is a US citizen only. I am considering taking a one-semester sabbatical at an institution in Canada; we would be in Canada for no more than three months. Is there any way for my wife to work while she is in Canada with me? How about volunteering?

My wife and I are trying to work out the best plan for my upcoming one-semester sabbatical, and one of the best options for my research is a research institute in Ontario. My wife has been working part-time as a nanny for the past year, and it would be nice if she could find some work as a short-term or substitute nanny while we're in Canada. However, my wife is not a Canadian citizen, and I haven't been able to find any options under which my wife could legally perform this type of paid work while in Canada for such a short period (three months at most). Employer-specific work permits are probably out of the question for this type of work, and the only type of open work permits that are vaguely applicable seem to be geared towards spouses of non-Canadian citizens, not spouses of Canadian citizens.

If paid work would be impossible, would volunteer work be permissible for my wife? Or is even that not allowed?

We're not planning to settle in Canada permanently on this visit, though we want to leave this option open in the long-term (you can probably guess why). In other words, grey-area actions that might jeopardize my wife's ability to apply for Canadian permanent residency at some point in the future are not ideal.

If there are any suggestions for other internet communities where this question might get useful responses, that would be great. If the answer is "consult a Canadian immigration lawyer", that's understandable. Mainly, we're trying to figure out what our options are, and what my sabbatical semester could be like for us.
posted by Johnny Assay to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The quick and sad answer is "no."

My wife is American, I'm Canadian, and we thoroughly explored this when she moved up; without permanent residency or another form of immigration scheme that recognizes a right to work, she simply can't (legally). The one exception might be NAFTA-categorized labour, which we never really looked that deeply into, and which tends to be specialized trades work (which is why we never looked into it).

Work permits are tough, too: the employer in question has to post the job and prove that they have done due diligence to try to hire a Canadian but could not, before moving on to non-Canadian applicants.

Volunteer work should be fine, as long as it's not depriving a citizen of an employment opportunity; grey-market or other work should be strictly avoided, especially if you want legit immigration to remain in the cards in the future. You probably wouldn't get caught, but if for some reason you did, it would not be super great your future in Canada.

- This all dates back to 2009, so things may have changed (and my memory is far from perfect).
- I'm not an immigration expert, but we did look at this pretty thoroughly
posted by Shepherd at 12:23 PM on March 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is there something she could do online for a US company - ie, work remotely? That may be an option while you're both in Canada.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 12:45 PM on March 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Once you're in Canada she could apply for permanent residence Spouse or Common-Law Partner in-Canada class, and apply for an open work permit at the same time. However, current estimates for work permits applied for within Canada are 15 weeks. Also, your case official might be a bit suspicious about the temporary nature of your job. Doesn't sound like a great idea without talking with a lawyer first.

I've heard of people getting in trouble for certain kinds of volunteer activity without a work permit. CIC says this:
The difference between a charitable worker (who needs a work permit) and a volunteer (who does not) centres on the definition of "work", and entry into the labour market. A charitable worker is usually taking a full-time position and may be engaging in; a competitive activity, an activity which meets the definition of "work" even though there may be nominal remuneration (e.g.: group home worker, camp counsellor, carpenter for "Habitat for Humanity"). A "volunteer" who is not entering the labour market nor doing an activity which meets the definition of "work" does not require a work permit.
If she does any serious volunteering, I'd have documentation as to what it entails at hand when crossing the border.
posted by grouse at 3:26 PM on March 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd note too that even self employment would be illegal.
posted by mikek at 6:33 PM on March 7, 2017

If you know that you're only going to be staying in Canada for ~3 months at this point, don't try going through the permanent resident program. You'd need to sponsor your spouse (unless she goes through the skilled worker route, but that's likely to take far longer than 3 months), and I seem to recall the sponsor signs that they intend to continue living in Canada as their permanent residence for at least the next 2 years (you're on the hook for 2 years to pay back any unemployment/support related funds).

More over, when applying for permanent residence from within Canada, the second that you cross the border out of Canada, your application for permanent residency is considered aborted by you. If you want to apply sometime in the future having an aborted application doesn't seem like a good thing (but perhaps it might not be something they consider).

(information is dated back to around 2002-2005 when I immigrated to Canada via spousal sponsorship)

The short answer is volunteering shouldn't be an issue. Working remotely for a us company shouldn't be an issue. Working legally in Canada will be an issue. There's no classification of a temporary work permit because one's spouse is a citizen.
posted by nobeagle at 7:20 AM on March 8, 2017

American spouse of Canadian citizen here. When we moved to Canada, my husband applied for permanent residency for me, and it still took me a year after arriving to get an open work permit while that application was being processed -- though I do understand this process has been somewhat shortened since. It was incredibly frustrating to me that my friends who were spouses of non-Canadian temporary workers got simultaneous open work permits, which also gave them the ability to get drivers licenses and care cards, while as the spouse and parent of Canadians I got nothing.

My immigration lawyer cautioned me about significant volunteer work as well, though he wasn't too concerned about me doing a little volunteering in my kids' school.

I don't know that nobeagle's advice about voiding a PR application by exiting the country is still current. Canada allows "dual intent" (meaning you intend to be a permanent resident, even when you also intend to go on a short vacation or visit abroad), although the US does not. What you do have to be careful about is if you exit the country, you have to have some legitimate status to re-enter, such as time remaining on your visitor status, a work permit, or a pending application. I myself left and re-entered twice after applying for PR from within Canada in the last two years.
posted by gateau at 8:57 AM on March 8, 2017

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