Canadian Work Permits

Canadian Work Permits Overview

Foreign workers are temporary residents who may be authorized to work with or without a Work Permit.

Most people secure a Work Permit first, then apply to immigrate to Canada. Often, getting a Work Permit relies on obtaining a genuine job offer from a Canadian employer. In turn, those employers must often get prior approval by HRSDC before they can bring foreign workers to Canada.

The definition of “work”

“An activity for which wages or commission is earned, or that competes directly with activities of Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the Canadian labour market”.

Obtaining Labour Market Opinion (LMO) from HRSDC

Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC), also known as Service Canada, must usually approve an employer’s application for a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) before the foreign worker can be approved for a Work Permit by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Most foreign workers require a valid Work Permit and LMO to work in Canada. However:

  • some foreign workers don’t require an LMO, only a Work Permit

  • some foreign workers don’t require an LMO or a Work Permit

  • there are special Work Permit rules for International Students

A Labour Market Opinion (LMO) is usually required before a Work Permit is issued

Most Work Permits are issued on the basis of a “labour market opinion” or “confirmation” obtained from Human resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC). Once the LMO is approved the applicant must apply for a Work Permit. Service Canada considers whether:

  • the job offer is genuine

  • the wages and working conditions are comparable to those offered to Canadians working in the occupation

  • employers conducted reasonable efforts to hire or train Canadians for the job

  • the foreign worker is filling a labour shortage

  • the employment of the foreign worker will directly create new job opportunities or help retain jobs for Canadians

  • the foreign worker will transfer new skills and knowledge to Canadians; and

  • the hiring of the foreign worker will not affect a labour dispute or the employment of any Canadian worker involved in such a dispute

There are specific LMO instructions for:

  • The Low-Skilled Worker Program

  • Facilitated Entry for Software Professionals

  • Live-In Caregiver Program

  • Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP)

  • Film and Entertainment

  • Academics (see below)

“Dual Intent” allowed: Apply for Permanent Residence and Work Permit

You can apply for Permanent Residence before or after you apply for a Work Permit. Canadian law allows you to have the dual intent of applying for a Work Permit and permanent residence simultaneously.

“Concurrent processing” of LMO and Work Permit allowed for faster processing

A procedure called “concurrent processing” allows foreign workers to file for a Work Permit as soon as they receive a job offer and while their LMO is being processed. Once a job offer has been given to a foreign worker they can apply for a Work Permit to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) visa post responsible for the country where they work or live. The Work Permit will not be issued before the LMO is approved. Low-skilled workers must have the LMO before applying for the Work Permit.

Work Permit applicants must show their intent to stay temporarily

Canadian Visa Officers who review the Work Permit applications can refuse a temporary visa application if they are not convinced the applicant will leave Canada if they are required to (i.e. the job opportunity ends).

Where to Apply for a Work Permit

R11(2) requires that applications for a temporary resident visa or a study or work permit must be made outside Canada at the visa office responsible for the country where the applicant is present and has been “lawfully admitted” or at the applicant’s country of nationality.

“Lawfully admitted” means physically in a country served by that visa office (unless it is their country of nationality) and persons who were lawfully admitted, but no longer have legal status when the application is submitted or persons who initially were not lawfully admitted, but have since gained legal status and have legal status at the time an application is submitted. Persons who entered a country without status and still have no status in that country are not eligible to apply in the country where they currently are living without status.

Workers from “visa exempt countries” may obtain Work Permits at the port-of-entry Applicants from “Visa Exempt Countries” (meaning a visitor’s visa is not required for travel to Canada (i.e. Mexico) can apply for their Work Permits at the border. Medical requirements still apply to many workers from most developing nations if their intended stay exceeds six months.

Medical Examinations Designated Country List

Foreign workers who are from a “Designated Country” or have lived in a Designated Country in for at least six months in the last year must undergo a medical examination with a “Designated Medical Practitioner” if their Work Permit is longer than six months or the occupation is one where the “protection of health is essential” (i.e. teachers, domestics, nurses). Medical examinations are performed by certain doctors and the results are sent to a Canadian Medical Centre for evaluation. This process can take several months. However, with the new Concurrent Processing procedure medical forms may be issued to the applicant as soon as they apply for the Work Permit. Some visa posts only issue the medical forms after they have made a positive determination.

Occupation Licensing and Trade Certification

Each province has separate rules and regulations regarding professional and trade licensing. Foreign workers often have to obtain the necessary approvals before the Work Permit is issued. We help the employer and foreign worker navigate this complex area.

Work Permit Validity Periods

Work Permits are usually granted for the length of the LMO. The Work Permit cannot be granted beyond the validity of a passport. The LMO can be granted for up to three years if the job offer covers that period and the officer finds it justifiable. Low-Skilled workers can be given a Work Permit for up to two years, then they must return home for at least four months before returning to Canada.

Work Permit Extensions

Work Permits are usually extendable. A new LMO is normally required, but often additional recruitment efforts are not required. The rules for Low-Skilled workers are different. There are limits for the extension for Work Permits issued under NAFTA or GATS.

Spouses of Work Permit Holders

Spouses or common-law partners of skilled people coming to Canada as temporary foreign workers for more than six months (not low-skilled workers) may receive an “open Work Permit” allowing them to work for any employer without first having a confirmed job offer. We usually recommend to the foreign worker to come to Canada alone at first to get established and later bring their families. This can reduce costs and stress for the foreign worker.

PNP Programs

These provincial immigration programs enable foreign workers to get permanent residence faster. Usually employers file a joint application with the foreign worker after the worker has been working in Canada for them.

Work Permit Processing Fees

The CIC Work Permit fee is $150.

Low-Skilled Workers

Occupations that are classified as “Low-Skilled” by the National Occupation Classification (NOC) system are coded “C” or “D” skill level. They are ones that usually require at most a high school diploma or a maximum of two years of job-specific training (i.e. hotel housekeepers, waiters, machine operators, personal support workers). These workers can come to Canada for up to two years, but then must return home for at least four months before returning to Canada. Employers must provide return airfare and “help” their workers find accommodations that will not cost more than one-third of their salary. HRSDC has a prescribed contract they prefer the employers use (Low Skilled Worker Employment Agreement) and require the employer to enroll the worker in the appropriate Workplace Safety Board insurance program.

Length of Employment

After finishing the approved work period in Canada the foreign workers must return to their home country for at least four months before applying again (i.e. 24 months in, 4 months out).

Employer Must Provide the Following: Employers pay return air-fare, ensure that affordable and suitable accommodation is available, provide temporary medical insurance coverage for the duration of the employment, register workers with provincial workplace safety insurance plans, sign an agreement with the employee and demonstrate continued efforts to recruit and train Canadian workers.

Must Provide Future Intention to Return Home Later

Applicants must demonstrate that they will do the job for which they have been hired. Officers try to determine the likelihood applicants will respect the terms and conditions of the Work Permit/visa. In particular, officers will try and determine the likelihood of the applicant leaving Canada at the end of their temporary employment.

No Work Permits for Spouses

The spouse of a Low-Skill Pilot worker is not eligible for an open Work Permit. Although applicants may apply to have their spouses and dependent children accompany them to Canada, officers may be concerned regarding the applicant’s intention to return to their home country later and also the ability of the applicant to support their dependents while in Canada.

Facilitated Entry for Software Professionals

This project was implemented to streamline the entry of certain high-demand software workers in response to the need of employers to fill critical shortages in the software industry. Job-specific confirmations were replaced by a “national confirmation letter”, which enables these programmers to enter Canada without the need to get a new LMO. The applicant’s job duties must fit one of these job descriptions. Candidates need at least two years of experience and the requisite education.

List of Software Professionals

  • Senior Animation Effects Editor (NOC 9990.1)

  • Embedded Systems Software Designer (NOC 9990.2)

  • MIS Software Designer (NOC 9990.3)

  • Multimedia Software Developer (NOC 9990.4)

  • Software Developer — Services (NOC 9990.5)

  • Software Products Developer (NOC 9990.6)

  • Telecommunications Software Designer (NOC 9990.7)

Academic exchanges

Academic exchanges are very common, especially at the post- graduate level.

Guest lecturers: Persons invited by a post-secondary institution to give a series of lectures and who occupy a temporary position of a non-continuing nature (which does not comprise a complete academic course) for a period of less than one academic term or semester.

Teachers, elementary and secondary: Persons who are engaged by educational institutions as elementary and secondary teachers coming to Canada under reciprocal exchange agreements arranged between foreign educational authorities and Canadian provincial governments or school boards may be issued Work Permits under this category as well. Included are pre-school, elementary and secondary school teachers coming to Canada under the Reciprocal Exchange Agreement between New Zealand and the province of Ontario. Family members of Australian and British teachers coming to Canada this category may also be issued Work Permits.

Visiting professors: Work period not to exceed two academic years and will retain their position abroad. Visiting professors may also include those on sabbatical who are doing collaborative research with a Canadian post-secondary institution. They would be paid by the foreign university that employs them outside Canada.

Work Permits for Charitable or Religious workers

Applicant must be working for a charity. A non-profit organization is not necessarily a charitable one. A charitable organization has a mandate to relieve poverty, or benefit the community, educational, or religious institutions.

An applicant may be considered to be engaging in charitable or religious work if they meet the following conditions:

  • The individual will not receive remuneration, other than a small stipend for living expenses;

  • The organization or institution which is sponsoring the foreign worker will not, itself, receive direct remuneration from any source on behalf of, or for, the services rendered by the foreign worker; and

  • The work goes above and beyond normal work in the labour market, whether remunerated in some manner or not, for example:

  • Organizations which gather volunteer workers to paint or repair the houses of the poor may qualify, provided that the work would not otherwise be done. (i.e. if the recipients of this work are not able to hire a professional or do the work themselves)

  • L’Arche, which relies on people to live full-time in a group home with people who have developmental disabilities. (Workers in the homes are remunerated, but they are committed to taking care of the disabled people on almost a 24-hour basis.)

  • Persons who are giving their time to community or religious organizations in a position which would not represent a real employment opportunity for Canadians or permanent residents. (Such work would entail a requirement to be part of, or share the beliefs of, the particular religious community in which they are working.)

Fee exempt

Note: Missionaries who will devote their full time to missionary service for the church or proselytizing qualify. They should be attached to a congregation in Canada and this type of work should be a usual congregational activity.

Note: The difference between a charitable worker (who needs a Work Permit) and a volunteer (who does not) centres around the definition of “work,” and entry into the labour market. A charitable worker is usually taking a full-time position, and may be engaging in a competitive activity; an activity which meets the definition of “work” even though there may be nominal remuneration (e.g. group home worker, camp counsellor, carpenter for “Habitat for Humanity”). A “volunteer” who is not entering the labour market, nor doing an activity which meets the definition of ‘work’ does not require a Work Permit.

Certain temporary foreign workers must often pass a medical exam before undertaking work in Canada.