Episode 83 – Everything you need to know about visas for working in Canada


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In this Episode, Allan McKay interviews Catherine Sas, an Immigration Lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Center in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She is the leading immigration practitioner according to Lexpert, Who’s Who Legal and Best Lawyers in Canada. Catherine has been voted Vancouver’s Best Immigration Lawyer every year from 2012 through 2016.


In this Episode, Allan and Catherine discuss the procedures of applying for Canadian Work Permits, Study Permits, Visas, Permanent Residency; as well as the best route to pursue work in Vancouver, the current capital for visual effects.


Sas & Ing Immigration Law Center Website: www.canadian-visa-lawyer.com.

Sas & Ing Immigration Law Center Blog: http://canadian-visa-lawyer.com/blog/

Government of Canada Website: https://www.canada.ca/en/services.html



Episode 83 — Interview with Catherine Sas, Canadian Immigration Attorney

at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Center in Vancouver, BC, Canada



Hey, this is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 83. I’m speaking with Catherine Sas who is one of the top Immigration Lawyers in Canada. We’re speaking about:

  • How to work in Canada.
  • Dealing with work visas and permits.


Let’s dive in!


[-48:08] This Episode I’ve wanted to do for quite a while. After doing two Episodes on immigration and working in the U.S. (allanmckay.com/52 and allanmckay.com/54), I thought it would be cool to dive into the same subject for Canada. This is obviously a hot topic, especially for film, because Vancouver is the current capital for visual effects. I thought it would be cool to talk about what it takes to work in Canada.


[-[47:19] It might not be something that’s on your radar: to work in another country. Having an understanding of the process is critical because it will allow you to prepare ahead of time and start thinking about what’s involved:

  • Building up your portfolio;
  • Building up your credentials;
  • Networking;
  • Doing any printed work (publicity) or anything that would help you with the application process.


That way, when it comes to working on a film or a video game, if you have it all already, it’s going to help you — no matter where you want to work!





[-46:27] One thing that I’ve teased about for two weeks is the brand new training. This is a free 10-video training series. I’ve hired a lot of amazing artists to help me build. This training is really fun. I’m proud that it’s finally out!


To get access, go to allanmckay.com/fireball. It’s only available for four weeks! I really want to make you accountable and take action. You can’t bookmark it and get to it later.


[-[44:19] On the training videos, we go through:

  • Creating massive effects;
  • Lighting shots;
  • Render;
  • Pipeline;
  • Scripting;
  • A public Live Career Intensive webinar.


So much stuff! Get ready and get in there.





[-43:41] Catherine: Hi, my name is Catherine Sas. I’m a Vancouver-based immigration attorney and I’ve been practicing over 26 years. I do a lot of work with artists in the film industry. I’m a registered foreign legal consultant in California. I’ve done a lot of work with American professionals. I work with people all over the world who want to live, work or study in Canada, or call Canada home.


[-[43:13] Allan: That’s so cool! Obviously, right now, Vancouver is a hot spot for film and games. Coming from Los Angeles, I can say Vancouver is now the capital for visual effects. We’ve been in a bit of a drought because everything is in Vancouver. Because of that, there are a lot of visual effects facilities popping up in Canada. For those who want to work in Canada, what is the process they can expect to get a visa or a Work Permit?


Catherine: There is not a lot when it comes to Work Permits that are individually driven. You need to have an employer that can be the basis for your Work Permit. There are different types of Work Permits:

  • Intra-Company Transfer: For example, if you’re working for a visual effects company in Los Angeles, and they decide to send you to their Vancouver-based office. That’s relatively easy.  
  • Under NAFTA: These are graphic designer visas, under the North-American Free Trade Agreement.


In most cases, you need to have an employer. They have to apply for a Labor Market Impact Assessment. An employer must advertise [a job posting] for a minimum of 28 days. The advertising provisions are strict. After, they have to demonstrate that no suitable Canadian applicant can fulfill that job. Only if an employer can prove that, the Labor Market can consider a particular [foreign] individual.


[-[40:59] Then, that particular individual applies for a Work Permit. If you’re from the U.S., U.K., Australia or New Zealand, France or Germany — countries where you do not need a visa to come to Canada — you can hop on a plane and present your Labor Market Impact Assessment at the airport or at the border. If you come from countries that need a visa, you need to apply for a Work Permit at a Canadian Visa Office abroad.


[-[40:18] There is a number of exemptions, but again, they are employer driven:

  1. If you look at the North American Free Trade Agreement, and you’re a computer systems analyst or a graphic designer, you can apply for your Work Permit at the border but only if you have an offer of employment from a Canadian employer. It does not land itself to the people who are self-employed.
  2. Lastly, there are people who can apply for their own Work Permit: The Young Professionals Visa or the Working Holiday Visa. It’s listed as an International Experience Class. They are youth-exchange programs, but Canada must have an arrangement with your country. (We do not have one with the U.S., but we do have one with Australia (which gives you a permit for 2 years) and New Zealand (a permit for 1 year).) It’s a fantastic program for young people who want to get some work experience. It’s an open Work Permit.


[-[38:23] Allan: That’s awesome! I do think that’s a huge advantage. As long as you’re under the age of 32, you can off to London or Vancouver and get any job there. It’s so great for life experience!


Catherine: Another way that companies can bring their workers: There is been a lot of discussion about the high tech sector, which is also in the gaming industry. What if foreigners who are working in the U.S. aren’t able to continue working in the U.S.? What we encourage people to do — for foreign entities — if the company decides to open an office in Canada, they can transfer any worker working for them full-time, for more that 12 months as long as they are:

  • An executive;
  • A manager;
  • Or, have a specialized knowledge capacity (and most VFX projects [are in this category]).


[-[36:40] Allan: It’s a valid point that you’ve brought up. I like that Canada does the waiver period when a company needs to seek internally [within Canada]. That’s what most people overlook: For you to take a job in Canada or whichever other country, technically you’re taking someone else’s job. Vancouver residents won’t be able to get work. You’ve got to prove to the government that no one else in that country can do that job.


Catherine: And that is the cornerstone of the Work Permit process. But that does not apply to the Intra-Company Transfers or our Treaty Agreement. We have 5 Treaty Agreements, I believe:

  • The North American Free Trade Agreement;
  • The Canada / Chile Free Trade Agreement;
  • The Canada / Peru Agreement;
  • The Canada / Colombia Agreement;
  • And Canada / Korea Agreement.


The schedules to each of those are different, as well as the types of workers they’re open for. You don’t need to prove that there is no Canadian who can do the job. An employer needs to prove that they have a valid position for a person who is skilled for that position.


[-[34:13] Allan: In terms of the types of visa available (excluding the Youth Agreements), what are the typical ones [for VFX artists]? The U.S. has the O-1. U.K. has something similar. What is the one for Canada?


Catherine: It would be the C-10. That’s the starting point. Then, we look at other ways (the Youth Agreement, the Intra-Company Transfers, etc). But there are other exceptions — such as Significant Benefit to Canada. Once upon a time, we were able to use this exception readily (pre-Olympics in 2010). But the combination of the Olympics being over and the global recession, there was a pullback on using this with a generous spirit. You need to have a pretty compelling case.


[-32:50] The other program that allows for flexibility is Canada’s Student Program. Canada is very welcoming to international students who go to school full-time. They are allowed to work — without a Work Permit — up to 20 hours a week, while they’re going to school. They are eligible to work full-time during the school breaks. Then, you will be eligible for a post-graduate Work Permit for up to 3 years when you graduate (which generally gives people an opportunity to apply for Permanent Residency).


[-[32:00] Allan: That’s awesome! I’m learning so much already! [Just to reiterate], in terms of people applying through an employer, they would need to seek an employer in Canada who would apply for a Work Permit on their behalf. How long would the process be?


Catherine: Well, an employer can’t find anybody. The first order of business is to identify the position and advertise for it, with specific location, qualifications. Then you submit the Labor Market Impact Assessment. The speed of that process depends on the skill level as well as the wage rate. You can expect for the Labor Market Impact Assessment to take 4 months. And then, you can apply for the Work Permit in the country where the person is residing.


So if that person resides in the Philippines, the process could take 1-3 years. If you’re applying for an American worker, you can process the permit right at the port of entry.


It really is specific to:

  • The nature of the position;
  • The salary that’s offered;
  • And the country where the person is coming from.


[-[29:34] Allan: I’ve worked in Vancouver for a year, and I loved that process that you can just show up at the airport [for some countries]. It’s definitely a different vibe.


Catherine: The majority of my clients have had a different experience from you, Allan. You really should consider your border experience to be a sobering one. You should be prepared for what they may ask you.


[-[28:21] Allan: You’re right, it’s best to be prepared for anything! There might be questions that could trip you up. One question about a designer Work Permit, are there certain job descriptions that are higher relevance than others. Most art fields are such a gray area. What would be the ones that have a high success rate of going through. Say, I’m a Technical Director or an Animator.


Catherine: That’s one of those situations where you need to be working with a really great immigration professional to help you navigate that process. Calling yourself an Animator means that I most likely need a Labor Market Impact Assessment. If I call you a Graphic Designer, I can bring you under the North American Trade Agreement. That’s a very difficult question to answer. But how you characterize the occupation — there is some wiggle room there.


Canada has a huge qualification system. It’s called the National Occupational Qualification (NOQ). I have two 5-inch binders I consult [on this]. I determine which is the qualification that’s suited for this individual, as well as the employer. And we may combine them to where we need to. Honestly, for the employer, you always want to get them away from the Labor Market Impact Assessment. It’s time consuming and it’s expensive.


[-[25:31] Allan: I always recommend people hire a professional especially when it comes to something this important; someone who knows the process like the back of their hand and knows all the loopholes. Say, you’ve gone through a process where you’re being rejected, a professional knows how to fix the situation.


Catherine: One of the things our Canadian government puts a lot of stock into is that you can access all the information and application forms yourself, on their website. In theory that is true, but there is no official that you can run it by. Inside of Canada, we have a call center when you’re filing within Canada. Sadly, in my experience, if you call five different officers, you’re likely to get five different answers. You want to make sure you’re getting information you need.


[-23:47] Allan: I was reading your blog (http://canadian-visa-lawyer.com/blog/). The article that you sent me earlier was pretty interesting: When President Trump got elected, the server crashed. Do you want to talk about that?


Catherine: Yes, I do. I have one client really angry with me. We got his Labor Market Impact Assessment, but we couldn’t get on the server for days! The server was down for 2-3 days. You couldn’t post any of your client’s applications. People remark that it’s the Trump Effect (http://canadian-visa-lawyer.com/the-trump-effect-turning-to-canadas-immigration-program/). Every time there is an American election, there is a spike in interest. I’ve been doing this a long time. This happened during both Bush’s elections. It happened during the Obama election. Trump’s election just happened to be in the news.


[-[22:29] Allan: You’re right. Especially in the last couple years, there is a burst of people looking into their options [with other countries]. With the Commonwealth, for those countries, how much does it increase their chances of working in Canada?


Catherine: It does absolutely nothing for them! The only way [someone from Australia] is special is perhaps because Canada is in the Commonwealth, Australia and Canada negotiated a really sweet deal. An international experience candidate can come here readily and stay here for a longer period of time. Ireland went through that for a while. India is also part of the Commonwealth, but there is no benefit. There is a slight concern that if there were an agreement [in place], there would be such a flood of people from a country with 1.2 billion people that Canada won’t be able to sustain the arrangement. Canada has finalized the Canada-European Trade Agreement, which is a big deal for us.


[-[20:32] Allan: It might be worth touching base on the ATA. It’s obviously not work visa related. When did the ATA got put into place?


Catherine: One opinion is that we’re keeping up with the Joneses. The Americans have it, so Canada now has it. There are some cynical views that it’s just a cash grab for the Canadian government. It may help us track visitors. It’s a really pain in the neck if you’ve been used to hopping on a plane from Germany or France, and now you have to make sure you have this permit (which fortunately lasts 5 years).


[-[19:23] If you are a Canadian Permanent Resident and you have been out of the country and your card expired, you can’t just hop on the plane to come home because you won’t get an ATA, because you can’t get an ATA since you’re a permanent resident. It’s made for some interesting problems over the holidays.


[-[18:25] Allan: You talked about studying in Canada and how getting a Canadian degree will help your chances of long-term stay. Do you think that’s a good option to up your chances?


Catherine: Without question it is! Let’s step back a bit: How do you get a Work Permit to work in Canada? The majority of Work Permits are employer driven. If you’re in China or India, connecting with an employer is really difficult. But if you come to Canada on a Study Permit, you can now work during school and during breaks; which gives you an opportunity to build a relationship with an employer. And after you graduate, you can work for up to 3 years; which gives you experience in the Canadian work market, which makes you eligible to apply for Permanent Residency. That’s a very strategic way to try and come to Canada.


[-16:56] Not all schools are created equal. Going to a private school will not entitle you to a post-graduate Work Permit! You need to go to a public college or university. Depending on how long the program of study is, the universities offer very different Work Permit options:

  • If you [have finished] a one-year certificate program, you will have a one-year post-graduate Work Permit.
  • If you take a two-year diploma program, you will get a three-year post-graduate Work Permit.
  • If you take a four-year Bachelor’s Degree program, you will still get a three-year post-graduate Work Permit.


So obviously, if finances are an issue (which they often are with coming to study abroad), your best choice is to pursue a two-year diploma program. Usually, those two-year diplomas will count toward a Bachelor’s Degree, once you’re a Permanent Resident.


[-[15:34] Allan: That’s a great advice! If you are planning ahead, is there anything you can build up (resume, credentials, press, etc), is there anything you would recommend to increase people’s chances down the line?


Catherine: That’s a very interesting and complicated question. I’m going to back-up a little bit and talk about Canada’s Express Entry Program:

  • The number one factor for this program is English or French language proficiency. If you’re coming to Canada as a student, the number one thing you need to focus on while you’re studying — is language proficiency! Which is very different in other countries.
  • The other factor is foreign work experience. When assessing who is going to qualify for the Express Entry, it’s most likely going to be a highly educated, highly experienced person under the age of 35 (which is a bit of an oxymoron). The combination of education, work experience and language proficiency is something you need to think about right off the bat.


[-13:10] The other thing to discuss is the Self-Employment Category. You’ve touched on the fact that there is a strong film and television sector in Vancouver. Well, we have a unique immigration category that’s still in existence. It’s called the Self-Employed Category. It applies to people who are in arts, culture, athletics or farming. Obviously, film and television deals with arts and culture. We’re able to bring a lot of people who can prove that they’ve provided for their own employment in the last 2-3 years; then they can apply for Permanent Residence on their own.


[-[12:04] Allan: Are there any emergency visa you can get within 24 hours or a week [to come work on a film, for example, on short notice]?


Catherine: The answer is yes. Canada likes having its film and television sector. We always had a program in place to fast track the Labor Market Impact Assessment, for entertainment sector. Last February, our government eliminated the need for that. A person can apply for a Work Permit at a point of entry as long as they can provide a letter from the production demonstrating that:

  • Their role is going to be essential;
  • What they’re going to do;
  • What they’re going to get paid;
  • For how long;
  • And that there is no objection from any local union or guild.


[-[10:47] Allan: What happens if you lose your job? I’m guessing it depends on what kind of visa you have. Do you have a time window within which you have to leave the country or find a new job?


Catherine: That is a complicated question. If you have a Work Permit that is specific to one employer, it’s valid for another 6 months. You can stay in the country. You can’t work for another employer, but you can look for another employer. If you find another employer and they provide you with another job offer, then you can apply to switch employers within Canada (which takes 1-3 months); or if you’re from an country that doesn’t need visas, you can go to the point of entry and apply for it there.


[-[09:35] Allan: What about spousal Work Permits? I like the fact that Canada does do that. If you’re married, are they able to apply for a Work Permit?


Catherine: Yes, Canada does provide spousal permits. The issue is: Not only are there many qualifications, but everything has been classified into five levels: O, A, B, C or D. O, A and B are the known as skilled positions; C and D are semi- or low-skilled positions. If you’re under the following, then you can bring your spouse under a spousal Work Permit:

  • O = managerial;
  • A = generally professional;
  • B = skilled.


[-[08:30] Similarly, if you’re going to school at a Canadian school, you can bring your spouse on an open Work Permit.


[-[08:17] Allan: I’m actually engaged to a Canadian. If you’re married, what is the process for a foreign spouse to get a Permanent Residency?


Catherine: The two ways that you can come as a spouse:

  • The traditional way is called the Family Class.
  • There is also an Inland Application if you’re already in Canada.


You can get creative with these. In most cases, you need to submit your application and wait for it to be approved. If you were already in Canada and were either married to your spouse or had lived in a common-law relationship for 12 months, you can apply within Canada. Presently we have a program that has a simultaneous Work Permit (which you would get within 3-4 months).


[-[06:46] Allan: One important question, especially for Americans working in Canada: What is the situation for 6-12 month employment in terms of filing taxes?


Catherine: Well, that is a tough question because I’m not a tax specialist. If you’ve resided in Canada for up to 6 months, you’re not required to pay Canadian taxes. Canadian taxes are based on Residency. If you’ve been a resident for over 6 months, you do pay taxes. We do have tax treaties between most nations. If that’s your case, then the provision would come into play. You won’t have to pay double taxes, but you would have to file a Canadian tax return with your U.S. taxes. It’s different with each country!


[-[05:09] Allan: For anyone looking to go work in Canada, could you outline the benefits of hiring an immigration firm?


Catherine: One of the advantages is actually knowing what you can and can’t do. Part of my job is telling people, “No you don’t qualify, but these are your options.” Or “These are your options, here are the steps.”


[-[04:05] Allan: Finally, is there a website or other resources for contacting you?



  • We have our website: www.canadian-visa-lawyer.com. We’d love to have you come to our site. We have a series of blogs with useful information.
  • I would also direct you to go to the Canadian Government site: https://www.canada.ca/en/services.html.
  • I would refrain from surfing the internet and getting advice from it. The information from the Government site is accurate.


Allan: I really appreciate your taking the time to do this.


Catherine: It’s been a pleasure!



Obviously, there is a lot of valuable information here. I’ve got to admit: I love Canada, especially Vancouver. Be prepared! That way when a job comes up, you’ll know what you have to do.





I have another cool Episode coming up next week, with Dennis Mejillones. He is a Senior Character Artist at Bethesda. He is responsible for projects like Skyrim and Fallout 4. You might have checked out a hilarious Facebook Live session I did with him: www.facebook.com/allanfmckay.


In the meantime, in the next four weeks, I’m putting out a lot of free training, doing case studies, etc. It’s going to be a busy month! Check out allanmckay.com/fireball.


I’ll be back next week. Rock on!






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