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Emigrating from the UK to Canada and employment law differences

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Emigrating from the UK to Canada and employment law differences

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Moving to Canada and setting up a business inevitably throws up some legal challenges. Here we examine two of these. How to secure a visa to live and work in Canada; and how your obligations as an employer will differ from the UK.


British citizens donít need a visa to visit Canada. But to run a business in Canada youíll need a visa allowing you to work there.

Like most developed countries, Canada toughened its visa requirements in response to adverse global economic conditions, although it has weathered the slowdown well. Federal immigration programmes for foreign investors and entrepreneurs have been suspended. But itís still possible to apply for a visa under the Federal self-employed programme if you intend to purchase and manage a farm, or will be making a significant contribution to athletic and cultural life in Canada.

Canadian provinces can nominate foreign nationals for a visa. Several provinces, including British Columbia and Ontario, will issue nominations based on viable business proposals (subject to various requirements including a minimum investment). Others, like Manitoba and Nova Scotia, will nominate foreigners who show strong links to the province and the ability to economically establish themselves there.

If you have a job offer in Canada you might be able to get a temporary work visa. This limits you to working for one employer, but itís normally possible to switch to a permanent visa with unrestricted work rights.

Employment Law

A survey on employee protection by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development put Canada marginally below the UK. However, this doesnít mean life is easier for employers. Canada has a lot of employment standards regulation at national and local level with significant nuances depending on the industry in question. Federal laws on employment standards largely relate to industries like agriculture, mining and transportation and so most start-ups will fall under the provincial rules.

The minimum wage ranges from CAN$9.40 in Alberta to $11 in Nanavuk. Unlike the UK, there is no difference for younger workers although Nova Scotia sets a minimum rate for inexperienced employees. Several provinces set lower rates for certain occupations, like bar staff.

Maximum working hours are eight per day in most provinces but in Alberta, perhaps due to the preponderance of more rugged industries like forestry and mining, the maximum is 12 per day.  In most cases it is possible to ďopt outĒ of this with permission from the regional authorities. Annual leave entitlements are modest by UK standards; typically two weeks after the first year and three weeks after five years.

Most provinces provide for around 15 weeks parental leave for the mother and a further 35 weeks split between both parents. As in the UK, this is unpaid and itís common for employees to register with an Employment Insurance Program that pays out benefits if they take parental leave.

In addition to a wonderful lifestyle and a relatively robust economy, Canada offers a favourable legal environment for business. Take advice from a qualified lawyer and thereís no reason why the unfamiliar legal landscape should be a disadvantage to you.

This article for Start Up Overseas was contributed by Dominic Higgins graduated from University College London with a Law degree in 2005. Dominic has expertise in immigration and nationality law, his academic background covers a number of areas of law including contract, property, criminal law and international/EU law. Visit Contact law for more information on emigrating to Canada or to see more work from Dominic.

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