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In this blog, I will discuss the prerequisites for entering Canada as a business visitor, while also touching upon instances where a work permit is necessary or where a work permit exemption may be applicable. Our immigration team consistently receives inquiries from Canadian companies and organizations seeking to host foreign nationals on business visits to Canada, which is why I have chosen to cover this topic. It is worth noting that many of the requirements I will outline also apply to Canadian citizens travelling to the United States as business visitors.

What is the definition of a business visitor?

You are considered a business visitor if you:

  • come to participate in international business activities without entering the Canadian labour market; or
  • visit Canada temporarily to:
    • seek opportunities to expand your business
    • invest in a Canadian business
    • enhance existing business relationships

Business visitors typically stay in Canada for a few days or weeks, although in some cases, they may be allowed to remain for up to 6 months. When a foreign national enters Canada via air or land, they interact with officers from the Canada Border Services Agency who assess whether the intended activities fall within the permitted visitor category or if the foreign national is required to apply for a work permit.

Activities you may conduct as a business visitor include:

  • attending meetings, conferences, conventions, or trade shows
  • buying Canadian goods or services for a foreign business
  • taking orders for goods or services
  • providing after-sales service as part of a warranty or sales agreement
  • being trained by a Canadian parent company that you work for outside Canada
  • training employees of a Canadian branch of a foreign company
  • being trained by a Canadian company that has sold you equipment or services.

The most common misconception is that when inviting a foreign national to Canada as a business visitor, supporting documentation is not necessary. We frequently receive calls from foreign nationals who have been denied entry to Canada due to a lack of supporting documentation, as well as from Canadians who have faced similar challenges when entering the United States.

In order to provide relevant information, I will discuss a typical scenario and outline the required supporting documentation for business visitors.

A common scenario requiring supporting documentation

James is a U.K. citizen who is employed with the company in the U.K. The company has a branch in Canada. James is asked by his employer to attend the Canadian office for a few business meetings with the employees and the executive team of the Canadian branch. James intends to come to Canada for 10 days. As a U.K. citizen who is exempt from having to apply for a Canadian visa, he simply needs an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to enter Canada as a visitor that is easily obtained online.

When James arrives at the Canadian airport, he is asked about the purpose of his trip as he is clearing customs. James responds that he is entering Canada for 10 days to attend a business meeting with the Canadian branch of the U.K. company he is employed with. At that point in time, the CBSA officer has discretion to request supporting documentation to ensure that the purpose of the visit is to perform the business visitor activities and not activities that would constitute “working in Canada”.

What supporting documentation does James need to have on him for the purpose of border-crossing?

  • The most important document is a well-drafted business invitation letter from the hosting company in Canada. The letter must include the foreign national’s full name, the business address of the Canadian company and contact information, the purpose of James’ visit and the detailed intended activities in Canada, the duration of the business visit, and confirmation that James will not engage in any activities that would constitute ‘work’ in Canada. The letter should also include confirmation that James is employed outside Canada and that he will not receive any funds from the Canadian company. If the Canadian company covers James’ travel expenses, this should be indicated in the business invitation letter;
  • Verification of the employment from the U.K. company stating James’ employment start date, confirming the full-time employment status in the U.K., his title, detailed list of duties and yearly salary;
  • Two to three recent pay stubs to accompany the verification of the employment letter;
  • Hotel confirmation for the duration of James’ stay in Canada;
  • A recent utility bill that confirms James’ address outside of Canada;
  • Flight itinerary to prove that James will be travelling back to the U.K. after his business visit ends;
  • If James is covering his travel expenses himself, he should also have on him a copy of his bank account statement as evidence of sufficient funds to fund his business visit.

Most CBSA officers in this scenario may not require supporting documentation, but they have the authority to request it at any time. Therefore, it is advisable for individuals like James to carry supporting documentation when travelling to Canada for business meetings.

If James begins visiting Canada more frequently and staying for longer periods, it is highly likely that the attending CBSA officer will question the purpose of his visits. Based solely on the frequency of his visits, the CBSA officer may refuse James entry to Canada, suspecting that he is engaging in work activities in Canada. In such a situation, it is recommended that James consults with an immigration lawyer to explore the possibility of obtaining a Canadian work permit.

In the described scenario, James may be eligible for an intra-company work permit if he has been employed with the U.K. company for at least one year within the past three years.

If you are inviting a foreign national from a non-visa-exempt country, such as China or Saudi Arabia, they must submit their application for a business visitor visa through a Canadian Consulate or Visa Office outside Canada. In this situation, a more comprehensive set of supporting documentation will be necessary to accompany the visa application. The foreign national bears a significant responsibility to demonstrate substantial ties to their home country and establish that their visit to Canada is solely for business visitor purposes.

Expert witnesses

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act establishes several narrow categories that allow foreign nationals to work in Canada without needing a work permit. One such category is expert witnesses who are exempt from work permits under specific circumstances. Expert witnesses are not required to apply for work permits if they are entering Canada to conduct surveys or analyses for evidentiary purposes or to act as expert witnesses before a regulatory body, tribunal, or court of law.

When it comes to border-crossing as an expert witness, specific supporting documentation is necessary. This includes the expert witness’s curriculum vitae (CV), educational degrees and diplomas, as well as documentation confirming their involvement in ongoing litigation in Canada. It is also advisable to include an invitation letter from the Canadian lawyer involved in the litigation case.

Ensuring compliance with immigration regulations

As you can see, the requirements for supporting documentation in Canada depend on the purpose of the visit. Even within the business visitor category, these requirements can vary based on the specific circumstances and activities planned in Canada. To ensure compliance with immigration regulations, it is highly recommended to seek guidance from an immigration lawyer. The lawyer can assist in ensuring that the foreign national you are inviting to Canada for a business visit has all the necessary supporting documentation for border crossing. Even if your company regularly issues business invitation letters, it is advisable to have an immigration lawyer review the content to ensure it aligns with immigration regulations. The same cautious approach should be taken by Canadians who frequently travel to the United States for business visits. It is always better to be overprepared when crossing the border rather than underprepared.

Have questions about cross-border matters or entering Canada as a business visitor?

If you or anyone in your company requires assistance with cross-border matters, please do not hesitate to contact Elena Ashford or any member of our dedicated Siskinds Immigration Team. We are here to meet your business needs.

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