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BlogCanada announces ‘Digital Nomads’ strategy

25 September 2023

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Ottawa’s Tech Talent Strategy aims to make Canada a top destination for educated remote workers with a ‘have-laptop-will-travel’ attitude

The term “digital nomad” has been in use for over 25 years to describe a person who supports themselves by working remotely, rather than at a fixed location, which allows them to freely travel the globe. With ongoing technological advances and a rise in digital nomadism due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the term has gone mainstream and has made its way into the vocabulary of Canadian immigration law ever since a June 2023 announcement by our government that they are actively marketing Canada as an attractive destination for digital nomads. In this article, we will review the government’s latest policy announcement and discuss the pros and cons of coming to Canada as a digital nomad.

On June 27, 2023, former Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Sean Fraser, announced a comprehensive package of new policies, collectively called the “Tech Talent Strategy”, that is intended to make Canada a global leader in recruiting tech talent. Among these policies was the announcement of a strategy to attract digital nomads to Canada.

Even before this policy announcement, Canada’s immigration laws already authorized many visitors, including digital nomads, to come to Canada to perform work without first obtaining a work permit. That is because “work” is defined as an activity which is in direct competition with Canadian citizens or permanent residents. In other words, a digital nomad is allowed to work while in Canada as a visitor (without a work permit) because they are not competing with Canadians for job opportunities since they are performing services for companies abroad. As such, digital nomads have always been welcome to Canada, but the government’s latest marketing efforts represent a recognition that more and more people today can work remotely and that there are many mutual benefits of the arrangement for Canada and digital nomads alike.

Pros of Digital Nomadism

There are many reasons why digital nomads may choose to temporarily live in Canada. These include the opportunity to experience and explore one of the world’s top tourist destinations while maintaining their current employment status. Digital nomads may also have friends, partners, and family members who live in Canada (or in the United States) and the ability to spend extended time with these loved ones is an opportunity too good to pass up.

On the other hand, digital nomads boost our local economies as part of their extended stay when they find accommodations and settle into daily life in Canada. Moreover, the Government of Canada believes that many digital nomads will eventually choose to find job opportunities in Canada and decide to stay on a permanent basis, which will alleviate labour shortages in key technology sectors.

Cons of Digital Nomadism

Though many digital nomads will find it relatively straightforward to obtain the necessary documentation to travel to Canada as a visitor, there are some long-term considerations that they should be aware of.

Upon entry to Canada, most visitors are only allowed to remain in Canada for up to six months. As visitors, digital nomads do not have the benefit of any medical coverage, nor any ability to obtain local identification documents such as a driver’s licence, which might make it difficult to open accounts with various institutions and companies.

Since a visitor’s stay is usually capped at six months, they will be required to depart Canada before the six-month period expires or, alternatively, they must file an online application with the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to extend their stay within Canada as a visitor.

Finally, though the government expects that many digital nomads will find work in Canada and eventually apply to change over to worker status and even permanent resident status, many will find it difficult to navigate the steps needed to change their immigration status and to do it in a timely manner.

Digital nomadism is a growing trend that is being closely followed by the Canadian government. Canada’s latest policy to attract digital nomads represents an alignment between Canadian immigration policy and the rapidly changing landscape of global work culture. However, IRCC must remain flexible and innovative to achieve the stated goal of not just attracting but also keeping these workers in Canada.

As a Canadian immigration lawyer, I regularly advise clients who have come to Canada on a temporary basis and who wish to remain on a permanent basis, including working holiday permit holders who found it straightforward to come to Canada but difficult to stay. Digital nomads who wish to obtain Canadian permanent residency will face many of the same challenges that other temporary entrants have faced in the past, including confusion when navigating the IRCC website and understanding the eligibility criteria and timing surrounding applications to successfully extend and transition their immigration status in Canada.

Digital nomads should be very excited by the opportunity to travel and work in Canada, but they must exercise due diligence regarding our immigration laws before arriving. Those who are even remotely interested in permanent residency will greatly benefit from obtaining legal advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure a smooth stay in Canada.

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