One of the challenges that refugee newcomers often face in seeking first-time employment in Canada is their lack of any Canadian work experience and work-related references.

A very good option to gain such experience and references is to engage in volunteer work. This might be undertaken on a part-time basis, while studying English, before starting to look for full-time employment. Aside from providing a meaningful entry on a resume, this can also present an excellent opportunity for networking, in order to establish contacts that may eventually lead to a paid job offer.

The following websites, for example, offer a range of volunteer positions available in the GTA.

With respect to “Rights and responsibilities as a volunteer”, see this post on the Settlement.org website.
Volunteering and internships for newcomers to Canada

How does an unpaid internship work?

An alternative means of gaining Canadian experience that younger newcomers, in particular, might consider is an unpaid internship. However, in Ontario, the Ontario’s Employment Standards Act places limitations on the types of unpaid internships which can be considered legal. If not permitted, employers must pay at least minimum wage. The permitted exceptions are if:

  • The internship is part of a secondary school board, college, or university program.
  • The internship relates to specified professions, such as architecture, law, public accounting, veterinary science, dentistry, and optometry.
  • The intern can be properly classified as a “trainee”, as a result of all of the following criteria being met:
    • The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school.
    • The training is for the benefit of the individual.
    • The person providing the training derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the individual while he or she is being trained.
    • The individual does not displace employees of the person providing the training.
    • The individual is not accorded a right to become an employee of the person providing the training.
    • The individual is advised that he or she will receive no remuneration for the time that he or she spends in training.

Given the above criteria which need to be met in order to qualify as a legal, unpaid internship, it is not likely that many refugee newcomers will be able to take advantage of such opportunities, unless they are part of a school program.

Paid internships

On the other hand, internships which pay at least the minimum wage in Ontario and comply with all other aspects of employment law, are legal. Paid internships may create opportunities for newcomers to be trained and obtain Canadian work experience at a lower rate of compensation than would otherwise be paid. These opportunities, however, would be relatively short-term and the expectation would be that the newcomer would eventually be hired as a regular employee or would depart the organization.