Working under the table in Canada: Risks and alternatives
By: Callum Denault
Published on July 22 2022
When looking for ways to earn money, it may be tempting to take on an under the table job to make cash that is not declared to the government. Under the table work—also known as moonlighting or working for cash—is no replacement for the safety and benefits that come with getting paid through legal, government-approved methods. Before you decide to work under the table, learn about the risks and alternatives.
Any paid-cash work which does not include a T4 form or payslip can risk an immigrant’s entire stay in Canada, and even get someone deported for working illegally. Injured workers are also only entitled to compensation if they are on a payroll: if there is no proof you worked for someone, there is no reason they have to help you.
There are many forms of cash-for-service exchanges in what the Canadian government calls “the underground economy.” This underground economy includes tips, incentives, payments in cash or gift cards, and “shared economy” services like renting and ride sharing. It is legal to be paid in cash, as long as the money you make is declared on your taxes. Being on an official payroll both ensures your employer has to help you if you get hurt on the job, and it keeps you safe from getting into legal trouble with the government.
It is also important to remember that even if someone says you are in legal trouble with the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), they may not be telling you the truth. Scammers may contact you from a random phone number or fake email address pretending to be the real CRA They do this to trick you into revealing personal information—such as your bank information—which they can use to steal from you. These scammers do things that agents from the real CRA would not do, such as asking for your personal information by email or aggressively demanding you pay them immediately over a phone call.
If you want to talk to someone from the real CRA to confirm your status with them, you can find the right number to phone them from here and can also report any scam calls you may have received.
“I know the restaurant business and construction are probably the two major cash jobs,” said George Laczko, who works in marketing for an immigration support organization called Immigroup. He said restaurant owners make little profits and are motivated to cut costs wherever they can, while employers in the construction industry want to hire people as fast as possible, especially if they don’t have to train anyone.
Drawing on his experience with the Chinese community in 2003, Laczko said most under the table jobs are taken by newcomers who are eager to start working in the few months before their work permits are ready. He said many people in the restaurant industry worked “from dusk till dawn” in the backs of kitchens, and most wanted to move to legitimately paying jobs as soon as they got temporary work permits.
Fortunately, there are resources to help immigrants start a safe, legal career in Ontario.
You can apply for a work permit with the Canadian government here. You can also see if you are eligible for a work permit.
There are two types of permits: employer-specific work permits and open work permits. Employer-specific work permits require that whoever is hiring you provides a copy of your work contract. Your employer would also have to provide either a Labour-Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) or an employment number which they can find in the Employer Portal.
Immigrants on an open work permit can work anywhere except for employers listed as ineligible, or in a job that involves any kind of sexual activity, like striptease or erotic massage.
Global Experience Ontario (GEO) allows newcomers to apply their skills in certain trades to related jobs in Ontario. At the bottom of the linked GEO article, there is also a list of different professions. Each of these professions is placed alongside the organizations and resources newcomers can use to find a job in that field.
Immigroup has a list of government phone numbers for those seeking help with immigration services. Laczko said there is a “myth” that being single gives someone a bigger chance of being accepted into Canada. He said this causes problems for people—especially women—who get accepted to work in Canada after they lied about not having any family in their home countries. Even when these people become residents, it is nearly impossible for them to bring their undeclared family members over.
“It’s one of those things you see on TV, of immigration police bashing down the door.” Laczko said, “That happens in the UK and the US. No one ever stops us, asking for our papers. We live in a fantastically open country in that sense.”
Laczko said in his experience, most people who got deported had committed a crime. Although he did not personally remember anyone losing their residency in Ontario because of the job they were working, Laczko cautioned that working under the table carries a serious risk of being deported.