Most foreign nationals need a work permit to work in Canada. Broadly speaking, there are two categories of foreign workers in Canada. The first category are those who must complete the Canadian government’s labour market test, called the Labour Market Impact Assessment (or “LMIA”). The second category are those who are exempt from requiring an LMIA.
For Canadian immigration purposes the definition of “work” is very broad and is defined as an activity for which wages are paid or commission is earned, or that competes directly with activities of Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the Canadian labour market, no matter the duration of the intended activity. Generally speaking, a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) is required, indicating that the proposed employment will not adversely affect Canadian workers. In most cases a job offer from a Canadian employer is required to apply for a Canadian Work Permit. In limited situations, Canadian immigration regulations allow for Open Work Permits, which are not employer-specific. A work permit is always temporary in nature, but can often be extended from inside Canada. Below is a guide on how you can pursue a Canadian temporary work permit.
Step 1: Employer applies for a Labour Market Impact Assessment, if necessary
The Canadian government has two categories of work permits. A work permit either needs a labour market test or is exempt from requiring it. In some cases, the labour market test is required to demonstrate that the issuance of a work permit to a foreign national will not have a negative impact on the employment and wages of workers in Canada.
What is an LMIA?
The name of the labour market test is called a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). The federal government department that oversees the LMIA process is called Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). A positive or neutral LMIA is issued by ESDC when it is satisfied that there is no Canadian citizen or permanent resident available to do the job. A negative LMIA is issued when it believes there are domestic workers available to do the job and hiring a foreign national will harm workers in Canada.
Typically, employers in Canada that wish to hire a foreign national are required to get a positive or neutral LMIA from ESDC. Once this is granted, the foreign national can then go to the federal department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to get their work permit. Once they get their work permit, they can go ahead and move to Canada to begin working for the employer.
Further, if the Canadian employer is hiring for a position located in the province of Quebec, the foreign worker will need to obtain a Certificat d’acceptation du Québec (CAQ) in order to work temporarily in Quebec. The CAQ application will have to be submitted to Quebec’s Ministère de l’Immigration, Francisation et de l’Intégration (MIFI) at the same time as the LMIA is submitted to ESDC.
ESDC and MIFI have made available to employers a streamlined LMIA process to fill selected positions in Quebec without having to include proof of recruitment efforts.
When is an LMIA not required?
In a limited number of situations foreign workers may obtain a work permit without the need for a LMIA. These work permits are typically referred to as LMIA Exempt Work Permits and include the following:
- International agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), or Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP);
- Canadian interest:
- As a result of significant economic, social or cultural benefits to Canadians;
- As a result of reciprocal agreements Canada and its provinces/territories have entered into with other countries, such as youth and teacher exchange programs;
- To allow international students studying in Canada to fulfill academic requirements known as co-op placements;
- To allow the accompanying spouses/common-law partners of certain work permit and Study Permit holders residing in Canada to work in Canada;
- To allow for charitable or religious work;
- In recognition that certain persons in Canada for reasons other than the above-mentioned, such as the making of a refugee claim, need to support themselves;
- Certain permanent residence applicants in Canada;
- Certain migrant workers and their dependents in Canada on employer-specific work permits who are experiencing abuse, or who are at risk of abuse.
Step 2: Employer extends Temporary Job Offer
Once a positive or neutral LMIA is granted, the Canadian employer must provide a copy of the LMIA approval letter along with a detailed job offer letter to the foreign worker, who will need those documents to apply for a work permit.
Step 3: Foreign Worker applies for Work Permit
With the LMIA approval letter, the job offer letter (and the CAQ if applicable), the foreign worker can submit an application for a Canadian temporary work permit to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Depending on their country of citizenship, the foreign worker may need to obtain a temporary residence visa (TRV) to travel to Canada, and would therefore need to submit the temporary work permit application at a Canadian visa office abroad.
Step 4: Work Permit is issued
The Canadian temporary work permit, will be issued at the point of entry by a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer at the time the foreign worker arrives in Canada.
A temporary work permit may be issued for a period of time ranging from a few days to a few years.
Most Canadian work permits are employer specific, otherwise referred to as “closed” work permits, and are granted for a specific job in Canada. Consequently, a foreign worker may only work for the employer specified on the work permit. As such, if the foreign worker finds a different employment and does not yet have permanent resident status, the foreign worker must apply for and receive a new work permit prior to changing employers or their position in Canada.
Note that a Canadian Temporary Work Permit is for those foreign workers who plan on working in Canada for a finite period of time. To work and live in Canada on a permanent basis, foreign workers must undertake the Canadian permanent residence process. However, a temporary work permit may be a stepping stone to Canadian permanent residence. Once in Canada on a temporary work permit, a foreign worker may qualify for Canadian permanent residence under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), through a Skilled Worker category, or through one of the Provincial Nominee Programs.