Types of Work Permits in Canada: Open Work Permits vs Closed Work Permits

Learn about the different types of work permits in Canada and how to get a Canadian work permit.
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Written by
Melissa Hamer-Jackson
Published on
February 21, 2024

Are you a potential immigrant or company considering sending employees to Canada? If so, understanding the types of work permits in Canada is essential. Here’s what you need to know.

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    Are you confused by the types of work permits in Canada? You’re not alone. Canada’s immigration system is complex and can be challenging to navigate. But Thirdsail is here to help! Our team of legal and compliance experts is intimately familiar with the Canadian immigration system. 

    Whether you're an aspiring immigrant or a company considering allowing employees to move to Canada, it's essential to understand the different types of work permits available. This comprehensive guide provides a complete overview of the types of work permits in Canada and explains how to get a Canadian work permit.

    Ready to learn more about Canadian work permits? Let’s get into it!

    What is a work permit in Canada?

    To legally work in Canada, most foreign nationals (including non-citizens, non-permanent residents, and temporary residents) need a valid work permit.

    A work permit is an official document that grants a foreign national permission to legally work in Canada for a specific period of time. Work permits may be referred to as “work visas.” However, it is important to consider these two different types of documents. See below.

    There are various types of work permits in Canada, including open and closed work permits (more on this below).

    IMPORTANT DISTINCTION: While the terms “work permit” and “work visa” are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between a work permit and a work visa. 

    What’s the difference between a work visa vs work permit? A visa (most often a stamp on your passport) allows you to enter and travel within Canada, while a work permit enables you to work legally in the country. Depending on your citizenship, you may need a work permit and a visa or Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to enter and work in Canada. If you apply for a work permit from outside of Canada and are approved, IRCC will issue you a visa or eTA (depending on your citizenship), and you will receive your work permit when you arrive in Canada.

    In this article, we will exclusively discuss work permits. However, if you require an entry visa or eTA, it will be issued to you when you receive your work permit - no need to apply separately.

    Who needs a work permit in Canada?

    Do you need a work permit in Canada? Most foreign nationals who want to work while in Canada need a work permit. In addition, the following individuals may require a Canadian work permit.

    • Spouses and common-law partners of skilled workers or international students.
    • Individuals with temporary resident status in Canada (e.g., visitors, refugees, asylum seekers).

    That said, there are some exceptions and situations where an individual does not require a work permit.

    Who is eligible to work without a permit in Canada?

    The following individuals typically do not require a work permit in Canada.

    • Business visitors - individuals coming to Canada for business meetings, conferences, or negotiations. Please note: this exemption is subject to specific activities and timeframes.
    • International students - individuals with study permits can work up to 20 hours per week while attending classes. If your program of study has a co-op portion to be completed, then a co-op work permit needs to be applied (ideally at the same time as the study permit). You will be issued a study permit and a work permit at the same time.
    • Athletes and coaches - foreign athletes, coaches, and other members of foreign teams competing in Canada.
    • Truck drivers, bus drivers, and airline workers - these individuals often do not require a work permit as long as they operate vehicles or serve passengers using foreign-owned and registered vehicles primarily used to transport passengers or cargo internationally.
    • Performing artists - performing artists do not require a Canadian work permit as long as they are foreign artists or a foreign artist's key staff, they perform for a limited time, are not hired for ongoing employment by the Canadian entity, and are not creating a movie, television, or radio broadcast.

    Use this Government of Canada tool to determine if you need a work permit.

    Types of Work Permits in Canada

    There are two types of work permits in Canada.

    1. Open work permits
    2. Closed work permits (or employer-specific work permits)

    Open Work Permits

    What is an open work permit? An open work permit allows you to work for nearly any employer in Canada - as long as they are compliant and do not offer adult entertainment services.

    This type of work permit offers the most freedom, allowing eligible foreign nationals to choose their occupation and employer. That said, open Canadian work permits can have restrictions, including job location and job type. Any restrictions to your open work permit will be listed on your documentation - at the bottom or on the back.

    Open Work Permit Eligibility - Who Can Apply?

    The following individuals may be eligible for an open work permit in Canada.

    • International students who have graduated from an eligible Designated Learning Institution (DLI) in Canada.
    • Destitute students.
    • Individuals who hold an employer-specific work permit but are experiencing or are at risk of experiencing physical, sexual, financial, or mental abuse at their job.
    • Dependent family members of permanent residence applicants.
    • Family members of foreign workers.
    • Spouses and common-law partners of international students or Atlantic Immigration Program applicants.
    • Refugees, asylum seekers, protected persons, and their family members.
    • Individuals who are subject to an unenforceable removal order.
    • Individuals with a temporary resident permit.
    • Young workers participating in special programs.
    • Spouses, common-law partners, dependent partners, and children living in Canada and being sponsored for permanent residency.

    Various types of work permits in Canada apply to the individuals above. However, it is important to note that being a member of one of these groups does not guarantee eligibility.

    Closed Work Permits (Employer-Specific Work Permits)

    What is a closed work permit? A closed work permit (or employer-specific work permit) allows you to work for a designated Canadian employer for a given period of time at a specific location in a specific industry.

    Who is eligible for a closed work permit in Canada?

    Foreign nationals with an LMIA-based job offer (unless LMIA-exempt) from a Canadian employer may be eligible for a closed work permit. In addition to a job offer, applicants may also need:

    • A copy of the employment contract signed by the employer and foreign national.
    • A copy of an LMIA OR an offer of employment number (if the position is LMIA-exempt) from the employer. An offer of employment number is a 7-digit number that is available to employers in their Employer Portal.

    Please note: additional eligibility requirements may apply, depending on the type of closed work permit you are applying for.

    Open Work Permit vs Closed Work Permit Canada

    What’s the difference between an open work permit and a closed work permit? 

    The following table highlights the main distinctions between these two types of work permits in Canada.

    Permit Type Can work for any employer? Can work in any occupation? Location specific? Job offer required prior to application? LMIA required?
    Open work permit Yes (restrictions may apply) Yes (restrictions may apply) No (restrictions may apply) No No
    Closed work permit (employer-specific) No No Yes, in most cases Yes Yes (unless LMIA-exempt)

    How to Get a Canadian Work Permit - Possible Pathways

    There are various pathways to getting a Canadian work permit. Below, we will discuss the possible pathways for getting an open work permit or closed work permit in Canada, depending on the applicant’s circumstances.

    How to Get an Open Work Permit in Canada - Possible Pathways

    There are various programs through which you can apply to get an open work permit in Canada. Some of the most common pathways for this type of work permit include:

    • Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP)
    • Spouse Open Work Permit (SOWP)
    • Bridging Open Work Permit (BOWP)
    • International Experience Canada (IEC)

    The following table compares the open work permit pathways above.

    Open Work Permit Pathway

    Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP)
    Who Can Apply? International students who have graduated from a PGWP-eligible Canadian Designated Learning Institution.
    General Eligibility Requirements
    • At least 18 years old.
    • Studied in Canada full-time for a minimum of 8 months.
    • Must apply within 180 days of graduating.
    • If applying from outside of Canada, you must have a valid visitor status OR have submitted an application to extend your study or visitor permit (and are awaiting processing).
    For complete eligibility requirements and exceptions, please visit the Government of Canada website.
    Duration of Permit

    8 to 36 months (3 years).

    Successful applicants typically receive a permit valid for a period equal to their length of study (up to 3 years).

    Important to Note
    • If your study permit expires (or will expire) before you apply for a PGWP, you must first apply for visitor status in Canada or leave Canada.
    • If you apply before your study permit expires, you may start working full-time while your application is being processed. Usually, IRCC will issue an interim work authorization letter until your PGWP application is processed and a decision is provided. This document is available after your PGWP application has been submitted.
    • Applicants may apply for a PGWP from within or outside Canada.
    Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP)
    Who Can Apply? Spouses and common-law partners who have:
    • A partner working or studying in Canada.
    • Applied to be sponsored for permanent residency by their spouse or common-law or conjugal partner.
    • A partner who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident who meets the residency obligations.
    General Eligibility Requirements
    • Must be in a genuine relationship (proof of relationship required).
    • Must have a spouse or common-law or conjugal partner with a valid temporary resident status AND a minimum of 6 months remaining on their work or study permit.
    • Must not be inadmissible to Canada.
    Please note: additional eligibility criteria may apply, depending on the SOWP category an individual applies under and their spouse’s status in Canada.
    Duration of Permit Valid for the duration of the applicant spouse’s or partner’s permit.
    Important to Note The expiry date on your passport can impact the duration of your SOWP. If your passport is about to expire, the duration of your permit will not exceed the expiry date of your passport.
    Bridging Open Work Permit (BOWP)
    Who Can Apply? Individuals with a valid work permit expiring soon who have submitted a permanent residency application after receiving an ITA. It is important to note that simply having created a profile for Express Entry or an Expression of Interest for a PNP is not sufficient to apply for this.
    General Eligibility Requirements
    • Must live in Canada (and intend to live outside Quebec).
    • Must have a valid work permit OR an expired work permit but have submitted for renewal before the expiration, OR are eligible to restore your status and get a new work permit.
    • Must have applied, as the principal applicant, to an eligible Canadian permanent residency program.
    • Must have submitted a complete permanent residency application and passed the completeness check.
    • Must have an acknowledgment of receipt letter.
    Individuals who have applied for permanent residency under the following programs/classes must meet additional requirements.
    • Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) via Express Entry
    • Provincial Nominee Program (not through Express Entry)
    • Quebec Skilled Worker Class (QSWC)
    • Home Child Care Provider Pilot Program or Home Support Worker Pilot Program
    • Agri-Food Pilot (AFP)
    Visit the Government of Canada website for complete eligibility requirements and application instructions.
    Duration of Permit

    Typically issued for 24 months.

    Extensions may be issued for up to 12 months if an applicant is waiting for their permanent residency application to be processed.

    Important to Note
    • This work permit allows foreign nationals to continue working in Canada while their permanent residency application is being processed.
    • A BOWP will not be issued beyond the validity of an applicant’s passport.
    • You may leave Canada while your application is being processed. However, if you leave after your work permit expires, you can’t work until your new application is approved. It is also important to keep in mind that you must have a valid visa in order to return to Canada if you choose to leave while your PR Application is being processed.
    International Experience Canada (IEC)
    Who Can Apply? Young people from partner countries with similar youth mobility programs.
    General Eligibility Requirements
    • The individual must be within the accepted age (maximum 35 years old).
    • The applicant’s country of citizenship must have an agreement with Canada under IEC.
    Some of the countries that currently have IEC agreements with Canada include:
    • Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Taiwan, United Kingdom, and more.
    To learn more about International Experience Canada, please visit the Government of Canada website.
    Duration of Permit Up to 2 years (depending on your country of nationality and the program you apply for).
    Important to Note There are three different work/travel categories under IEC:
    • Working Holiday
    • Young Professionals
    • International Co-op (Internship)
    Please note: not all categories are available in each country.

    How to Get a Closed Work Permit in Canada - Possible Pathways

    There are several possible pathways to getting a closed work permit in Canada. These include:

    • Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP)
    • International Mobility Program (IMP)

    The following table compares the closed work permit pathways above.

    Closed Work Permit Pathway

    Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP)
    Who Can Apply? Skilled foreign workers who have an offer of employment from a Canadian employer with an LMIA.
    LMIA Required? Yes
    General Eligibility Requirements
    • Must have a job offer from a Canadian employer.
    • Employer must have a positive LMIA confirmation letter.
    • Applicant must not be inadmissible to Canada.
    Please note: various application streams are available under the TFWP, each with its own requirements. These streams include:
    • High Wage Workers
    • Low Wage Workers
    • Foreign Agriculture Workers / Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP)
    • Foreign Academics
    • Global Talent Stream (GTS)
    • Home Care Providers
    Learn more about the eligibility requirements for each stream here.
    International Mobility Program (IMP)
    Who Can Apply? International workers in positions that offer broad economic, cultural, or other benefits for Canada and reciprocal advantages for Canadians and permanent residents.
    LMIA Required? No
    General Eligibility Requirements
    • Must have a job offer from a Canadian employer exempt from submitting an LMIA.
    • Applicant must not be inadmissible to Canada.
    Please note: various International Mobility Programs are available, each with specific eligibility requirements. These programs include:
    • Post-Graduation Work Permit Program
    • Reciprocal Youth Change Agreements
    • International Free Trade Agreements (e.g., Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), etc.)
    • Intra-Company Transfer Program
    • Circumstances of Social or Cultural Benefit to Canada

    What is a LMIA (Labour Market Impact Assessment)?

    An LMIA (Labour Market Impact Assessment) is a document that evaluates the impact of hiring a foreign worker on the Canadian labor market. This document is issued by a branch of the Canadian government known as Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), Service Canada.  

    A positive LMIA is issued if ESDC determines that hiring a foreign worker won't negatively impact the Canadian labor market and there is an authentic need for the employer to hire from abroad.

    A negative LMIA is issued if ESDC determines that hiring a foreign worker will negatively impact the Canadian labor market. In this case, the job should be filled by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

    When do you need an LMIA?

    Canadian employers commonly need an LMIA if they want to hire a foreign worker. While many positions require a Labour Market Impact Assessment, some jobs are LMIA-exempt.

    Employees applying for certain types of work permits in Canada (i.e., closed work permits) also need a copy of an LMIA from their employer and the offer of employment.

    Can my company sponsor a work permit / work visa?

    Companies can help employees obtain closed (employee-specific) work permits in Canada. However, they can't 'sponsor' potential foreign employees the same way companies in the US can.

    In Canada, companies can assist with an employee's work permit application. However, unlike in the US, the employee is responsible for submitting the application and paying all fees related to the work permit application. The employer’s role is to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment or (for LMIA-exempt positions) submit an electronic job offer. The Employer is required to pay a non-refundable fee for applying for the LMIA. 

    Want to immigrate to Canada while continuing to work for your non-Canadian employer? Thirdsail can help - learn about our EOR Services!

    How to Apply for a Work Permit in Canada

    The process of applying for a work permit depends on several factors, including the type of Canadian work permit and the pathway you pursue. However, in general, the process to apply looks like this:

    1. Select the Type of Work Permit That’s Best For You and Fits Your Circumstances

    Determine whether you will be applying for an open work permit or a closed (employer-specific) work permit and which program you wish to apply under.

    2. Ensure You Are Eligible to Move to and Work in Canada

    Your specific eligibility requirements will depend on your citizenship, where you are when you apply, and the type of work permit you apply for. That said, there are some general eligibility requirements that apply to all applicants.

    • Prove you will leave Canada once your work permit expires.
    • Demonstrate that you have enough money to take care of yourself (and your family members) while in Canada and sufficient funds to return home. This requirement applies for open work permit applicants and usually for the period that they may require to find work.
    • Have no criminal record (you may be asked to provide a police clearance certificate).
    • Do not pose a danger to national security.
    • Be in good health (a medical exam may be required).
    • Do not plan to work for a non-compliant employer or an employer that provides adult entertainment services.
    • Provide other required documents, such as proof that you meet the requirements of the job being offered, language requirements (if applicable), education requirements (if applicable), and that the job being offered is genuine (in certain circumstances).

    3. Gather Required Documents

    The documents you require will depend on the type of work permit you are applying for. These documents may include:

    • Valid passport.
    • Copy of your employment contract and an offer of employment number or a copy of a Labour Market Impact Assessment from your employer.
    • Proof of relationship (e.g., marriage certificate) if you are applying with dependents.
    • Proof of financial support (e.g., bank statements).
    • Police Clearance Certificate.
    • Education certificates and transcripts.
    • Resume and proof that you meet the requirements of the job being offered.
    • A medical exam.
    • Digital Photo.
    • Documents and records to prove that your stay in Canada is temporary and that you will leave Canada at the end of the authorized period.

    4. Complete and Submit Your Application

    Complete and submit your application online through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). 

    Please Note: You will be asked to pay the application fees and biometrics when you apply. All fees are in CAD.

    Paving the Way to Permanent Residency

    Obtaining any of the types of work permits in Canada discussed above can help you gain the work experience you need to apply for permanent residency. For example, after working in Canada for one year (12 months) and having completed 1560 hours working at least 30 hours per week, you may be able to apply for permanent residency under programs like the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).

    Immigrate to Canada and Keep Your Current Employment with the Help of Thirdsail

    Torn between immigrating to Canada and keeping your current job with a non-Canadian employer. Why not do both? Thirdsail’s EOR services can help you immigrate to Canada while working for your current employer!

    Contact us today to learn how.

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