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: open work permits and closed work permits. Both types of work permits allow foreign nationals to work in Canada for a certain period of time.
A Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) is needed before an employer can hire a foreign national for most closed work permits. 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 haven’t been 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. Some closed work permits are LMIA exempted and an LMIA as a prerequisite does not apply to an open work permit.
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.
Open Work Permits
The main characteristic of an open work permit is that it is not specific to one employer. 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 any eligible employer, in any position (if the person is qualified) in the country. Open work permits may also be restricted, which means that the foreign workers need to comply with the conditions specified on their work permits.
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. Additional eligibility criteria may apply.
In most cases, an open work permit can be applied for from within Canada, from outside Canada, or at a Canadian port of entry. However, where to apply depends on some factors (e.g. program), thus applicants need to check the program they qualify for to find out where to apply.
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 non-LMIA-exempt work permit. Closed LMIA-exempt work permits allow foreign nationals to work for one specific employer, in one specific position, without the need for an LMIA, and are based on either international agreements or arrangements or Canadian interests, meaning that the work permits are created to promote economic, cultural, and other competitive advantages for Canada and mutual benefits enjoyed by Canadians and permanent residents. Good examples of significant economic, social, or cultural benefits include the advancement of Canadian industry (e.g. technological development) and the creation of jobs.
One example is the C-11 exemption, in which applicants are exempted from the LMIA process due to the significant economic, social, or cultural benefits they would bring to Canada by operating their own business on a temporary basis. It requires the applicant to control at least 50% of the business.
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.
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 an employer reviews the list of LMIA exemption codes and finds the one most relevant to the hiring situation, the employer will need to include this code in the offer of employment. And the employer needs to use the employer portal to access the offer employment number required by the foreign worker for his/her work permit application.
Canadian work permits are for foreign nationals who want to work in Canada temporarily. However, if their goal is to live and work in Canada permanently, they should 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.