CERB Eligibility

Since the Canadian government first introduced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), eligibility for the benefit has continued to evolve. While CERB eligibility is not directly based on one’s immigration status in Canada, there are still criteria impacted by one’s status. This post focuses on some issues that may concern individuals working in Canada who are not yet permanent residents.

To apply for CERB, one must have a valid social insurance number (SIN). That SIN can either be permanent, as is the case for Canadian PRs, or temporary, which will be the case for individuals with a valid work permit. For temporary workers, the temporary SIN is valid only as long as one’s work permit is valid.

As such, even those in Canada who are neither PRs nor citizens may be eligible for CERB provided they have: 1) worked with a valid work permit; 2) hold a valid SIN tied to that work permit; and 3) have the valid SIN at the time they apply for CERB.

Below we address common scenarios regarding CERB and temporary workers. Please note that these are general guidelines that may not reflect your unique circumstances.

Individuals without legal status

In some situations, a person without valid status may qualify for CERB. For instance, if a failed refugee claimant who has successfully renewed their initial work permit may still be eligible for CERB. Also, individuals from countries for which Canada has a Temporary Suspension of Removal or Administrative Deferral of Removal may also obtain a work permit (and accordingly SIN) even without status in Canada.

However, a person without status whose removal order comes into force will no longer be eligible for CERB. Once a person’s removal order comes into force, their work permit becomes invalid. Even though Canada has temporarily paused deportations, leaving individuals under enforceable removal orders in Canada without CERB access, this situation persists.

Individuals working without a work permit

Individuals who are not yet Canadian PRs who have been working without having ever received a work permit do not qualify for CERB.

The circumstances are unclear in the case of a temporary foreign worker whose work permit has expired, but who applied to renew the work permit before its expiry. Even though that worker holds ‘implied status’ and can legally keep working until they receive their renewed work permit, they technically hold an expired work permit and therefore an invalid SIN.

This is unlikely to be how the law was intended to apply, but this is how it currently stands. Individuals in similar circumstances who nevertheless apply for CERB should be cautioned that they may be asked to repay the CERB, depending on how the CRA ultimately interprets the law. It may be easier to challenge a disqualification for CERB if one can show that while they applied for the benefit on ‘implied status’, they ultimately received the renewed work permit.

Individuals who have earned less than $5,000 in 2019 or during last 12 months

Individuals may include income from abroad when calculating the minimum $5,000 income required for CERB. The government has not yet specified which documents may be required to prove this income. As such, individuals should retain proof of all income earned outside Canada. This might include employment contracts, employment letters, bank statements, or pay statements.