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What Work Permit is Right for Me?

 There are so many times that people will reach out to me and ask about how they can work in Canada. The situation always depends on a number of different factors, especially how specialized and how in demand your skills are. With that said, let’s dive in and look at several work permits in Canada that you can apply for, as choosing the right one for your situation depends on a number of factors. The work permits we are going to cover in this blog include open-work permits, employer-specific work permits, co-op work permits, and post-graduate work permits.

Which Work Permit Do I Apply For?

First, you need to consider what category of worker you fall into. You could be a temporary worker, skilled trades worker, student, or performing any number of jobs. Next, you may want to consider what you hope to achieve with a work permit. Maybe you are a temporary worker looking to gain work experience and eventually apply for permanent resident status (and yes this is a great strategy, and something we cover in several other blogs). Perhaps you are a student who needs co-op experience to fulfill the requirements of your study program, or you are graduating and want to leverage your studies to get Canadian work experience which will open up numerous Permanent Resident Pathways. Nonetheless, there is a work permit for almost everyone who needs one and who is qualified with the latter being most important, so let’s dive into that now.

Take Jennifer Clarke for example. She is a manager of a technology company at their New York City location. She has been given the opportunity to transfer to their new location in Toronto, Canada. Canada offers work permits for exactly these types of people. Since Jennifer is currently working for a company that has a relationship with the company in Canada, she may be eligible for an employer-specific work permit. However, she still needs to make sure that she meets all other requirements to fully qualify for the work permit and decide on which type of work permit she will get. She has 2 choices in this scenario:

  • An LMIA based work permit (refer to our other blogs about LMIAs). LMIAs are the precursor to several different types of work permits under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that is administered by Employment Skills and Development Canada (aka Service Canada), or 2
  • Look at getting an Intra Company Transfer which would skip the LMIA process (and yes you want to do this at all costs – more on this later in the blog) which would then be subject to a treaty agreement under the worker provisions. This is always the favorable choice.


Now, as part of her work permit conditions, she may be required to work only for the technology company she was transferred to, and for only a specific time. The conditions that she must follow will be made clear once her application gets approved and the choice will surely depend on what she is trying to achieve.

Once you figure out these two details, it might be easier for you to narrow down your options. From there, it is best to understand if you are qualified and then see if you meet the eligibility requirements to qualify for each work permit and see which one best suits your needs. I will discuss each work permit in further detail now.

Open-Work Permits

Open-work permits allow you to work for any eligible employer in Canada without having to first get an employment contract with a positive Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). The requirements to be eligible for a work permit depend on where and when you apply for a work permit. There are some categories of workers that are exempt from needing a work permit such as business visitors, diplomats, news reporters, etc. as the difference here is that these examples are of people who are not “actively entering the Canadian labor market” and thus not requiring a work permit, while at the same time there are other provisions that are global accepted under various treaties that cover these professions.

Remember that due to COVID-19, if you are applying from outside of Canada your application processes may be delayed or unavailable at this time. Be sure to stay updated on COVID-19 and the temporary changes to immigration programs in Canada as we have seen and may see in the future different provisions.

Who is eligible for an open work permit?
To be eligible, you must fall within one of these specific situations:

  • You are an international student who graduated from a designated learning institution and are eligible for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program
  • You are a student who’s no longer able to meet the costs of your studies (destitute student)
  • You have an employer-specific work permit and are being abused or at risk of being abused with your job in Canada
  • You have applied for permanent residence in Canada
  • You are a dependent family member of someone who applied for permanent residence
  • You are the spouse or common-law partner of a skilled worker or international student
  • You are the spouse or common-law partner of an applicant of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program
  • You are a refugee, refugee claimant, protected person, or family member
  • You are under an unenforceable removal order
  • You are a temporary resident permit holder
  • You are a young worker participating in special programs

In addition, you must meet the following basic eligibility requirements:

  • Prove to an officer that you will leave Canada when your work permit expires;
  • Show proof of sufficient funds to support yourself and your family members during your stay in Canada;
  • Not be criminally inadmissible and obey the law while in Canada;
  • Not be a danger to Canada’s security;
  • Be in good health and undergo a medical examination, if needed;
  • Not work for an ineligible employer (see list of employers who have been deemed ineligible because they failed to comply with work permit conditions)
  • Not work for an employer who, regularly, offers striptease, erotic dance, escort services, or erotic massages; and
  • Provide documents to the officer that are necessary to determine whether you are admissible into the country

As part of the requirements to be eligible, you may need a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) or be able to provide proof that an employer has submitted an offer of employment through the Employer Portal and paid the employer compliance fee.

Open-work permits and COVID-19
Due to the ongoing pandemic, there are currently travel restrictions limiting travel in and out of the country. So, you must have a valid job offer when applying for an open work permit. This is only temporary during COVID-19 travel restrictions. As part of COVID-19 rules, you may be required to take extra steps such as taking a pre-entry COVID-19 test. The rules are different depending on your method of travel and where you’re travelling from. To see a checklist of requirements for traveling to Canada during COVID-19, click here.

Who is not eligible to apply for an open work permit?
You are not eligible if you plan to work for an employer who is listed as ineligible because they have failed to comply with the permit conditions or who regularly offers striptease, erotic dance, escort services, or erotic massages as part of the employment. As a side note, these terms are standard on every work permit and if you can believe that in the not-so-distant past there was a work permit for people who were providing adult entertainment purposes. Hence the reason for this provision was one that was taken away as people tended to get crafty on how they would be able to work in the adult entertainment profession when that status was taken away.

Can I apply for a work permit from inside or outside of Canada?

You may be required to meet more eligibility requirements, depending on where you are applying from. If you are applying from outside Canada, you need to make sure you meet visa office requirements for the specific country you are applying from.

Take Juan Dela Cruz for instance. He is applying for an open work permit in Canada from the Philippines. Since he is from outside of Canada, he needs to make sure he has the appropriate visa office requirements for applicants in the Philippines, a scanner or camera, and a valid credit or debit card. Check to see specific visa office requirements for the country you’re applying from.

Employer-Specific Work Permits

An employer-specific work permit allows you to work for only one employer, in one position during your authorized stay in Canada. This means you cannot change employers or job positions during your authorized work period. The purpose of this type of work permit is to allow foreign nationals to gain valuable work experience in Canada if they wish to apply for permanent resident status and eventually settle in Canada.

With an employer-specific work permit, you may have certain limitations that must be followed strictly during your employment. You are limited to the employer you can work for, how long you can work for them and where you can work. You also need to be able to provide details relating to your employment in Canada when you apply.

Have a look at the later section which outlines some of the different types of work permits that are available that are both LMIA Based Work Permits and LMIA exempt Work Permits.

Are there any conditions on my work permit?

Regardless of the type of work permit you hold; certain conditions must be followed by all work permit holders.

One condition is that you must not work for an employer or business where there are reasonable grounds to suspect a risk of sexual exploitation of some workers. This includes strip clubs, massage parlors, and escort agencies. If you are planning to work in one of these businesses, you are not eligible for a work permit. Yes, I know we covered this previously, but it is also relevant for this type of work permit category.

Another condition is that you must leave Canada once your authorized work period is over. If you stay in Canada past your authorized stay, this is illegal, and you will most likely face consequences.

Co-op Work Permits

If you are an international graduate student currently enrolled in a Canadian post-secondary institution and are required to complete a co-op or internship as part of your studies, you can apply for a co-op work permit. However, you need to make sure your acceptance letter from the designated learning institution outlines that co-op or internship is a requirement to graduate from your particular study program.

In most cases, the work permit is issued with the designated learning institution as the employer, and the co-op work permit is valid for the same period as your study permit at the designated learning institution.

If you are a student and for reasons beyond your control (such as humanitarian reasons), you are unable to financially provide for yourself, you may be granted an open work permit. This is only in unique and extreme circumstances such as a war outbreak in your home country. This allows you to work for any employer in Canada for a specific time to meet your financial needs. As a side note, this is very rare and exceptional, and I have people contact me about this from time and time. I always need to let them know that their situation 9 out of 10 times does not meet the criteria.

Post-Graduate Work Permits

If you are a graduated student from a Canadian designated learning institution, that is approved to qualify you for a Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) then this is a fantastic benefit for you. This allows you to obtain an open work permit so that you can gain valuable work experience in Canada.

What’s nice about this program is that if you have completed your study program, have applied for your PGWP and you are waiting for a decision on your PGWPP application, then in the meantime you are allowed to work in Canada. Considering you have met the following requirements, which include:

  • Having a valid study permit at the time of the PGWP application;
  • You were a full-time student enrolled at a DLI in a post-secondary academic, vocational or professional program;
  • You are authorized to work off-campus without a work permit and;
  • You do not exceed the allowable hours of work


Different Type of LMIA Based Work Permits

Before an employer can hire a temporary foreign worker, they will need to get an LMIA. This is only for employer specific work permits if the worker is applying under these streams:

  • High Wage Stream: This stream is for employers who have job offers to workers for positions with wages that are at or above the provincial/territorial median wage. Employers will need to prove the need to hire a TFW, satisfy the recruitment requirements, which include advertising, and provide a transition plan. In order to check the median wage for a position, you will need to check on the Job Bank. The employer must check the appropriate NOC code for the position in their area and industry.
  • Low Wage Stream: This stream is for employers who have job offers to workers for positions with wages that below the provincial/territorial median wage. However, there is a limit to how many workers the employer can hire for a low wage position at a specific work location. This cap means employers are limited to a:
    • 20% cap on the number of temporary foreign workers in low-wage positions, or the employers’ established estimated cap (whichever is lower), if they hired a temporary foreign worker in a low-wage position prior to June 20, 2014
    • 10% cap on the number of temporary foreign workers in low-wage positions if the employers did not employ a temporary foreign worker in a low-wage position prior to June 20, 2014

There are exemptions to this cap if the employer is hiring for certain positions such as a caregiver or for positions where the employer will support a temporary foreign worker’s permanent residence under an Express Entry Program.

Similar to the high wage stream, employers will need to complete the recruitment efforts and show that hiring a TFW is necessary

Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP)
Employers can hire a TFW under SAWP if:

  • the TFWs hired must be citizens from Mexico or participating Caribbean countries (e.g. Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia, etc.)
  • the TFW must be at least 18 years of age
  • the TFW is experienced in farming
  • production must be in specific commodity sectors
  • the activity must be related to on farm primary agriculture
  • the TFW is able to satisfy Canadian immigration laws, and the laws of the worker’s home country

Employers are responsible for covering the workers’ air fare and transportation to Canada, health insurance, and provide suitable, affordable housing.

Agricultural Stream
Employers can hire foreign workers under this stream by meeting the following requirements: 

  • production must be in specific commodity sectors. Examples of what is on the national commodity list include: tobacco, bovine, maple syrup, mushrooms and grains, etc.
  • the activity must be related to on-farm primary agriculture

Employers must cover all transit, round trip transportation, as well as health insurance, housing, accommodations and complete the mandatory advertising requirements.

Global Talent Stream
Employers looking to hire a TFW with specialized skills and unique talent can look into this stream. To apply, the worker must be eligible for either: Category A, which means you were referred by a designated referral partner, Canadian companies such as MaRS Discovery District or BC Tech Association. Or you are hiring someone with unique and specialized talent as per the criteria set out in the link, which includes a minimum of 5 years of experience in the field of specialized experience.

Or you can apply under Category B, which includes a position under the Global Talent Occupations List. A referral is not required to be eligible for Category B.

LMIA Based Work Permits vs LMIA Exempt Work Permits

While the work permits listed above require an LMIA, an employer can hire a TFW without one through the International Mobility Program. The employer will need to create an account on the Employer Portal and pay the employer compliance fees. Then they will need to submit a valid offer of employment with the job details.

LMIA Exempt Work permits include those under the International Experience Class program.

Final Thoughts

If you are a foreign worker or student looking to gain valuable work experience in Canada, applying for a work permit is a good move and depending on your goals (should they include staying in Canada as a Permanent Resident) then this work experience/work permit can prove to be invaluable to you.

With that said, be sure to choose one that best suits your needs and one that would result in the most successful outcome for you and always make sure that you have a clear plan that lays out to the end goal so that you always know what your next step is, and then you will be successful.


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