Work Permits Explained
Want to work in Canada? First, figure out what kind of permit you need.
Canada relies on immigration to maintain a healthy labour force and grow its economy. With an aging population and constantly low fertility rate, immigration is part of the solution when it comes to alleviating the pressure caused by those exiting the workforce. Canada's immigration policy welcomes skilled workers and entrepreneurs and invites their invaluable contribution to its culture and economy by essentially offering them two types of Canadian work permits.
Those who decide to pursue work in Canada must apply for the work permit for which they are eligible and take the steps required in their particular situation.
Generally, a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) is needed before an employer can hire a foreign national. This evaluation ensures that said employer tried to find a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to fill the position before deciding to hire someone from elsewhere. In other words, the employer should get a positive LMIA, also called a confirmation letter, which shows that they were not able to find a Canadian citizen or permanent resident available and eligible for this particular position, justifying the need to hire a foreign national temporarily.
It is important to note that the application for most Canadian work permits requires a copy of a positive LMIA and an LMIA number – there are, however, exceptions to this rule!
Open Work Permits
The main characteristic of an open work permit is that it is not specific to one job. Therefore, a foreign national applying for an open work permit does not need to be offered a job in Canada. Generally, a person with an unrestricted open work permit may work for almost any employer, in any position, and in any place in the country. Open work permits may also be occupation-restricted, which means that the foreign worker's job will be specified.
Since open work permits are not usually job-specific or employer-specific, they do not require an LMIA from Employment and Social Development Canada, nor do they require proof that an employer has submitted an offer of employment through the Employer Portal and paid the employer compliance fee.
This type of work permit is for people in specific situations, such as: students who can no longer meet the costs of their studies; international students who graduated from a Designated Learning Institution and are eligible for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program; workers with an employer-specific work permit who are being abused or are at risk of being abused in relation to their job in Canada; and the spouse or common-law partner of a skilled worker or international student. Foreign nationals applying for an open work permit must meet additional eligibility criteria.
You can formally apply for an open work permit from within Canada, from outside Canada, or at a Canadian port of entry.
Closed Work Permits
Closed work permits are the most common type of work permits issued in Canada and are often given to foreign workers seeking employment from one specific employer. This type of permit is also called an employer-specific work permit and includes the name of the employer, the length of time the foreign national can work in Canada, and the location where the work can take place.
A positive LMIA is required in order to be granted a closed work permit. It is important to note that exemptions from the LMIA process do exist, and are created to promote economic, cultural, and other competitive advantages for Canada and mutual benefits enjoyed by Canadians and permanent residents.
In order to find out if a foreign worker needs an LMIA or not, the first step is to review the list of LMIA exemption codes to see if an existing code applies to the specific situation. It is also possible to request an opinion from the International Mobility Workers Unit when a more personalized evaluation is desired and to determine whether the worker is exempt from the LMIA process.
When a foreign worker reviews the list of LMIA exemption codes and finds the one most relevant to their hiring situation, they will need to include this code in their offer of employment.
Closed LMIA-Exempt Work Permits
Closed LMIA-exempt work permits allow foreign nationals to work for one specific employer, in one specific position, without the need for an LMIA. The nature of the job determines whether an LMIA is required in each case.
Some applicants are exempted from the LMIA process due to the significant economic, social, or cultural benefits they would bring to Canada (C-11 Exemption) by operating their own business on a temporary basis.
This exemption for entrepreneurs and self-employed candidates is permitted if the foreign worker's business in Canada will generate opportunities for Canadian citizens or permanent residents; it is crucial that the work is likely to create a viable business that will benefit Canadian or permanent resident workers and that it will yield economic stimulus. This could be the case, for example, if the foreign entrepreneur has a special skill or background that will improve the viability of the business and its likelihood to produce a profit. They must also demonstrate that they have taken the initial steps to begin their business and have put their business plan in action.
Good examples of significant economic, social, or cultural benefits include the advancement of the Canadian industry (e.g. technological development) and the creation of jobs. It is important to note that work permits issued for entrepreneurs are only valid when the applicant controls at least 50% of the business. Otherwise, the foreign national is required to apply as an employee of the business.
Canadian work permits are for temporary foreign nationals who want to work in Canada. However, if their goal is to live and work in Canada permanently, they must instead apply for permanent residency.
Most foreign workers who come to Canada for employment need work permits. If you are unsure about needing one, we urge you to consult the interactive platform created by the Government of Canada and familiarize yourself with the types of work permits that best suit your situation.