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Who can work temporarily in Canada? eTA, NAFTA, Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Region: Ontario Answer # 659

If you are not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident, then you are not automatically entitled to work in Canada. To work in Canada, foreign workers must be covered under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), or they must obtain a work permit from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). It is illegal for someone who is not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident to work in Canada without a work permit or without special permission under NAFTA. It is also illegal for an employer to hire someone who is not legally entitled to work in Canada.

Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)

Beginning March 15, 2016 Foreign nationals from visa-exempt countries entering Canada by air, including those transiting through Canada, will require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). Exceptions include U.S. citizens and travellers with a valid visa. Entry requirements for those coming to Canada by land and sea have not changed.

An eTA is electronically linked to the traveller’s passport and is valid for five years or until the passport expires, whichever comes first. Applications for eTA’s are done online on the IRCC website, and in most cases the authorization will be issued immediately after submitting the online form.

If you need an eTA, it is recommended that you apply for it when you plan your trip, as opposed to waiting until you are ready to travel. As well, you must travel to Canada with the passport you used to get your eTA. If you require an eTA, you can only apply for one person at a time. For example, for a family of three, you must complete and submit the form three times.

Applicants who receive their study or work permit on or after August 1, 2015 will automatically be issued an eTA along with their permit, while those who received their permit before that date will have to apply for an eTA.

Previous Agreement: NAFTA

Special rules apply to business workers under NAFTA. Business people who are citizens of the United States or Mexico can enter Canada on a temporary basis to trade goods, provide services, or participate in investment activities. Business people will be asked to show proof of their citizenship, and they must qualify in one of the following four categories:

  • business visitors,
  • professionals,
  • intra-company transferees, or
  • traders and investors.

Similar rules apply to business people who are Chilean citizens under the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement (CCFT). Other free trade agreements that make it easier for business people to enter another country for a short time include: Canada-Peru FTA, Canada-Columbia FTA, Canada-Korea FTA and the General Agreement on Trade Services. For more information on these programs, visit Global Affairs Canada.

NEW Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)

On July 1, 2020, the new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) entered into force replacing NAFTA. In the U.S., this new agreement is known as the U.S. – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA). This information is currently under review.

Work Permit under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

A work permit gives workers permission to work at a specific job, for a certain time-period, and for a specific employer. Foreign workers who are not covered under NAFTA must apply for a work permit under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to legally work in Canada. The TFWP distinguishes between two groups of workers:

1. Workers hired through Temporary Foreign Worker Program

  • Based on employer demand to fill specific job
  • Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) required
  • Employer- specific work permits
  • Majority of workers are low-skilled
  • Hired because no Canadians are available
  • Employers pay a $1,000 LMIA processing fee for each position requested

2.  Workers hired through the International Mobility Program (IMP)

  • Not based on employer demand
  • No LMIA required
  • Usually open permits
  • Majority are high skill / high wage
  • Hired because deemed to add value to Canada’s economy and culture
  • Come from highly developed countries

Regardless of which category the worker is applying under, work permit applicants must meet certain basic criteria, as well as additional criteria that may be required depending on where the application is made.

The basic eligibility requirements that all work permit applicants must meet are:

  • satisfy an Officer that they will leave Canada at the end of their employment;
  • show that they have enough money during their stay in Canada to take care of themselves and their family members and to return home;
  • be law-abiding and have no record of criminal activity (they may be asked to provide a Police Clearance Certificate);
  • not be a danger to the security of Canada;
  • be in good health and complete a medical examination, if required;
  • not intend to engage in employment with an employer on the list of ineligible employers;
  • not have worked in Canada for one or more periods totalling four years after April 1, 2011, and
  • provide any additional documents requested by the Officer to establish admissibility.

Foreign workers who apply while they are outside Canada will submit the application to a visa office outside Canada, and there are no further eligibility requirements.

Foreign workers who submit their applications from inside Canada, will only be eligible to do so if:

  • you, your spouse or parents have a valid study or work permit;
  • you are a postgraduate of a Canadian university, community college, trade/technical school (or other eligible school or institution);
  • you have a temporary resident permit that is valid for six months or more; and
  • you are in Canada because you have already applied for permanent residence from inside Canada.

Foreign workers who submit their applications while entering Canada, will only be eligible to do so if:

  • you are temporary resident visa exempt;
  • you already hold a valid medical certificate, if it is required for your job;
  • your job does not need a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC); or you hold an LMIA from ESDC.

Once a person has met the eligibility requirements, to apply for a work permit, they must then complete the application and submit the appropriate documents depending on where they are applying from.

Global Skills Strategy

The Global Skills Strategy is an initiative to make is easier for Canadian businesses to grow by attracting foreign talent. As part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), it establishes a new Global Talent Stream which offers a faster way to receive a work permit for certain types of foreign workers.

Global Talent Stream

The Global Talent Stream is for firms in Canada that:

Work Permit – LMIA required

If you are required to get an LMIA, formerly known as a Labour Market Opinion (LMO), and sometimes called a “Confirmation”, your employer must apply for it from ESDC. An LMIA is submitted with the work permit application to Immigration and it enables the Immigration Officer to determine whether the employment of the foreign worker is likely to have a positive or negative impact on the labour market in Canada. A positive LMIA confirms that there is no Canadian or permanent resident available, and allows the employer to hire the foreign worker.

If you need to obtain an ESDC Confirmation, your employer must contact ESDC and provide details about the job by completing a job offer form. Also, the government requires employers to fulfill minimum advertising requirements before it accepts an application for a Labour Market Impact Assessment.

ESDC will then consider several factors before giving advice to the Immigration Officer, such as whether the employer made a reasonable effort to hire or train a Canadian but a qualified worker was not available or could not be trained in time, whether the conditions of the position are attractive to Canadian workers, and whether allowing a foreign worker to take the job will benefit Canada or the company.


Work Permit – LMIA NOT required

There are certain types of workers who are exempt from obtaining an ESDC Confirmation, although they do still require a work permit. These include: entrepreneurs who will provide significant benefit to Canadians; participants in exchange programs; co-op students; religious or charitable workers; and people who need to support themselves while in Canada for special reasons such as the refugee determination process.

If an LMIA from ESDC is not required, in its place you will need:

  • proof of identity in the form of a valid passport or travel document that guarantees that you will be able to return to the country where it was issued; and
  • if you are not a citizen of the country in which you are applying, proof of your present immigration status in that country.

Your employer will need to submit information about the business or organization, and pay a fee. If you are unsure if an ESDC Confirmation is needed in your specific circumstances, you should consult an immigration lawyer.

Once a work permit application has been submitted, the next step in the process is for the Immigration office to approve the employee. Employees will be contacted by a Canadian visa office. The employee may be asked to attend an interview or to send information by mail. The employee may also be asked to have a medical exam by a designated physician, which the employee will have to pay for. If the employee qualifies and has all the necessary documents, then the application is approved and the work permit will be issued.

There is a processing fee for a work permit which is non-refundable. Visitors are generally not allowed to work while they are in Canada. If a visitor finds a job, they will have to apply for a work permit while they are in Canada.

Religious Workers are the only group of persons who may work in Canada on visitor records, provided that in the remarks section of their visitor record it states that they have been granted an allowance to perform religious duties.

New protections for Temporary Foreign Workers

On September 26, 2022 the Government of Canada announced new amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (Temporary Foreign Workers). According to Employment and Social Development Canada, “these 13 new regulatory amendments include measures to strengthen protections for TFWs and will enhance the integrity of the TFW Program and the International Mobility Program (IMP),” Visit canada.ca for more information.

Get help

For the most up-to-date information on the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and how employers can hire a temporary foreign worker, visit the IRCC website at canada.ca

For general information, visit Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. To find foreign consulates and embassies in your province, click here.

A criminal record will delay, and can even prevent you from getting your immigration status. To erase your criminal record, call toll-free 1-888-808-3628 or learn more at Pardon Partners. It’s easier than you think.

For legal advice and assistance in applying to work in Canada, contact our preferred Immigration experts, Bright Immigration Consultants .

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