Traveling Abroad: What You Need to Know About Canadian Immigration

Last Updated on March 2, 2023

Canada is one of the most popular destinations for business travel outside the United States. Despite that, coming and going isn’t all that simple at times. We spoke with Marina Falkina, a Licensed Canadian Immigration Practitioner (RCIC) in Canada who is affiliated with Envoy, about the basics of Canadian immigration as it relates to business and work-related travel. Her assessment? There’s way too much to cover in one blog post! But there are some crucial elements every HR manager should know.

The most critical thing to remember, Marina pointed out, is there is a significant difference between entering Canada on business and coming to do work in Canada, and distinguishing between the two is necessary and is not always easy. It’s important to discuss with your legal counsel exactly what specific activities traveling employees will be doing once they’re in Canada since most employment-based visas and permits are activity-dependent even more than they are duration-dependent.

Most popular Canadian visas/permits

Marina gave us the inside scoop as to the most commonly used ways foreign national employees can enter Canada. Here are some of the top categories:

Business visitor

A business visitor visa, though technically not an employment-based visa, is one of the most common categories of business travel into Canada. There are two basic ways to look at business visitors destined for Canada: those who need a visa and those you are visa-exempt but may still need to present quite a bit of documentation upon arrival in Canada. The first is for most foreign nationals that require a visa to enter Canada for specific business purposes. Depending on the country of origin of the foreign national, there could be lots of documentation, long wait times, and the foreign national applicant must apply at a Canadian visa office abroad. The second category is for U.S. citizens and other visa-exempt nationals who do not need a visa to enter the country. Although for these nationals, entry into Canada as business visitors is often much more expedient since their documentation is reviewed at the border, they still must have relevant documentation to demonstrate that they meet the business visitor criteria for entry to Canada!

NAFTA Professional Work Permit

The NAFTA work permit is relatively straightforward, especially if you’re familiar with the TN visa in the U.S. This work permit, also included as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is almost an exact mirror of the American version and is available to U.S. citizens and Mexican citizens in specific professions. However, there are certain nuances that should be carefully looked at in each particular case to determine if the U.S. or Mexican national may qualify under NAFTA Professional work permit category.

Intracompany Transfer Work Permit (ICT)

This work permit is similar to the L-1A and L-1B in the U.S. It’s reserved for executives, functional managers, and workers with specialized knowledge. For U.S. citizens and other visa-exempt nationals, a detailed packet – prepared by a licensed immigration specialist – proving that the permit requirements are met may be presented at the border. All other foreign nationals who require a visa to travel to Canada must file their application with the relevant documentation proving their eligibility at a Canadian visa office abroad (online or paper application). Depending on the country of origin and the activities the individual will be doing while in Canada, the processing time for the ICT can be between 4 to 12 weeks or even longer. However, some applicants, depending on their anticipated occupation and role in Canada, may take advantage of the newly introduced 2-week processing.

Labor Market Impact Assessment-based Work Permit (LMIA-based WP)

Perhaps the most complex type of the work permit, this is a 2-tier process and is by design is the “last resort” for Canadian employers who seek to fill a temporary position in Canada. If an employer in Canada meets the Labor Market Impact Assessment, the foreign national employee can then apply for his/her work permit at the Canadian visa office abroad or present his/her package with relevant documentation at the border. Depending on the occupation and location of anticipated employment in Canada, this could be the most expensive and time-consuming option.

Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)

Foreign travelers from visa-exempt countries who need to fly or transit through a Canadian airport now need to be issued an eTA before boarding a flight to Canada. U.S. citizens are the only foreign nationals who are exempt from applying for the eTA. For others, the eTA is mandatory and must be applied online prior to purchasing an airline ticket. It should be noted that the eTA is not a visa. It doesn’t guarantee entry to Canada, neither can it substitute the need to qualify and apply for a work permit where necessary. To find out if you need a visa to travel to Canada, or an eTA, you can visit the Government of Canada website:, and be sure to consult your licensed Canadian immigration practitioner with any questions.

Recent policy changes in Canadian immigration

Some of the most recent developments in Canadian immigration include a newly introduced Global Skills Strategy. This strategy designates a team of officials who are permitted to process certain visa applications quickly. This new development could cut wait times down to 2 weeks, which for many foreign nationals who would otherwise have to wait up to 12 weeks (or longer!) this is welcome news.

The Canadian government also announced a new work permit exemption in June 2017. This exemption excuses business travelers who are managers or skill-level A workers who are doing very short-term work that would otherwise require a work permit.

Also in June, the Canadian government established the Global Talent Stream, which allows Canadian employers to hire certain IT professionals in less than 10 designated IT-related occupations with LMIA processing times of only 10 business days. This short processing time for the new stream, which falls under the Labor Market Impact Assessment application processing, eliminates the need for recruitment activities, though there are activities the employer must complete to strengthen and benefit the Canadian labor market after the LMIA is granted and in the event the work permit is subsequently issued to the foreign national worker.

Tune into our on-demand Going Global webinar for more details on recent immigration changes in Canada, Australia, and the U.K.