In general, a foreign national is not allowed to work in Canada without a work permit. However, it is possible for foreign nationals with a study permit to work in Canada without having to apply for a work permit.
Being legally allowed to work in Canada without a work permit is called being “work permit exempt”. There are quite a few circumstances where a person’s work qualifies as work permit exempt. For the purposes of a foreign student permit holder, there are three provisions in particular that are relevant. One applies to working on-campus, and the other two for off-campus.
To be allowed to work without a permit on-campus, the person must study full-time at the university or college they wish to work at. This applies for as long as the study permit is valid. Although technically there are no other restrictions to the nature (i.e. number of hours, period of time, etc.) the institution may impose their own limitations.
Working off-campus on a study permit has more restrictions. First, like on-campus, the person must be a full-time student at a post-secondary, designated learning institution. Furthermore, they must be enrolled for six months or more, leading to a certificate, diploma, or a degree.
Working off-campus has a limitation. You may only work off-campus for a total of twenty hours per week. This means you may only work part-time. Any more will be considered a breach of the conditions of your permit and visa. However, during regularly scheduled breaks in your academic sessions, you are allowed to work full-time. Consult your respective academic calendars, or ask your school administrators for the specific dates you would be allowed to work full-time.
Applying for a work-permit before study permit expiry
First, you must meet the same requirements as with working off-campus. After that, you may apply for a work-permit before your study permit ends. If you do this, you are technically still work-permit exempt. However, once a decision has been made regarding your work permit application, this exemption is withdrawn. This means either you must stop working (if refused), or you begin working according to the conditions of your new permit.
Volunteer-work, Co-ops, and Internships
Some unpaid volunteer, co-op, or internship work may be considered work. What is considered work in Canada does not hinge solely on getting paid. If your unpaid work otherwise takes the place of what would’ve been a paying job to a resident or citizen, it could be considered work. Keep this in mind when engaging in extra-curricular activities outside of school. The same rules apply to this type of work as with working off-campus.