A startup in Canada has offered me in an internship. It will be unpaid work and will last for 6 weeks or so. They don't have enough funds to hire someone and don't offer paid internships or pay someone to do the job. Can I work there on a visitor's visa in Canada?
To temporarily work in Canada as a non-citizen, you need a work permit. Work permits are usually restricted to a particular employer, and require that the employer demonstrate that a Canadian citizen could not be hired for the position. (There are also "open work permits", but these are usually for cases of people who are applying for permanent residency, their spouses, and refugees.)
You might think that since this position is unpaid, it does not qualify as "work". But Canada has a fairly expansive view of what "work" entails for these purposes; it's basically "doing anything that could affect the labour market for Canadian citizens":
“Work” is defined in the Regulations as an activity for which wages are paid or commission is earned, or that competes directly with activities of Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the Canadian labour market. ...
What is an activity that “competes directly”?
- Will they be doing an activity that a Canadian or permanent resident should really have an opportunity to do?
- Will they be engaging in a business activity that is competitive in the marketplace?
If the answer to either of these questions is ’yes‘, the foreign national intends to engage in a competitive activity, which would be considered “work”.
Examples of “work” include, but are not limited to:
- a foreign technician coming to repair a machine, or otherwise fulfill a contract, even when they will not be paid directly by the Canadian company for whom they are doing the work;
- self-employment, which could constitute a competitive economic activity such as opening a dry- cleaning shop or fast-food franchise. (A self-employed person may also be considered to be working if they receive a commission or payment for services);
- unpaid employment undertaken for the purpose of obtaining work experience, such as an internship or practicum normally done by a student.
The only way to do this legally would be for your employer to go through the process of obtaining an employer-specific work permit for you. This is a time- consuming process, and I suspect that most employers would not be willing to go through it for a six-week unpaid internship. But I suppose it can't hurt to ask.