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Who can work temporarily in Canada / Work Permits and Programs

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. Special rules apply. It is illegal for someone who is not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident to work in Canada without a work permit from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), or without special permission under the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). It is also illegal for an employer to hire someone who is not legally entitled to work in Canada.

Immigration law in Canada is complex. Issues such as getting permanent residence or citizenship, sponsoring someone, and coming to Canada to study or work involve many steps and can be overwhelming. To get help, ask a lawyer now.

Temporary Foreign Worker Programs

Foreign workers who are not covered under CUSMA and who are looking to work temporarily in Canada must apply to either the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program or to the International Mobility Program (IMP).

Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) 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

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

Visit Employment and Social Development Canada for more information on the TFW Program and the IMP.

What is a work permit?

Both programs have specific requirements, including a work permit. A work permit gives workers permission to work at a specific job, for a certain time-period, and for a specific employer. 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.

Basic eligibility requirements

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 plan to work for an employer who, on a regular basis, offers striptease, erotic dance, escort services or erotic massages;
  • 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.

Applying for a work permit

You should apply for your work permit before you travel to Canada. 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. Visa requirements may depend on the country or territory that you are applying from. There are also special requirements for foreign workers who submit their applications from inside Canada.

If you are a foreign worker submitting your application from inside Canada, you will only be eligible to do so if:

  • you 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) who is eligible for a post-graduation work permit, and still hold a valid study permit;
  • you made a claim for refugee protection;
  • you’ve been recognized as a convention refugee or protected person by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada;
  • you’re allowed to work in Canada without a work permit but you need a work permit to work in a different job (this does not apply to business visitors); or
  • you’re a trader, investor, intra-company transferee or professional under the Canada – United States – Mexico Agreement (CUSMA);
  • you have a temporary resident permit that is valid for six months or more; and
  • you are in Canada because you are waiting on and have already applied for permanent residence from inside Canada.

If you are a foreign worker submitting your application while entering Canada, you will only be eligible to do so if you:

  • are eligible for an electronic travel authorization (eTA) or to travel without a visitor visa (find out if you need a visa)
  • meet other requirements depending on the type of work permit you’re applying for

It is important to note that the validity of your work permit cannot exceed the validity of your passport. Therefore, you should ensure that your passport will be valid for a longer period than your requested extension.

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

Refer to the instructions for how to apply for a work permit depending on your situation.

What is a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA)?

A Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) is a document that employers in Canada must apply for from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) before hiring a foreign worker under the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program. 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 – sometimes called a Confirmation Letter – confirms that there is a need for a foreign worker to fill the job because there is no Canadian or permanent resident available. A positive LMIA allows the employer to hire the foreign worker.

Since April 3, 2023, the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program has moved the Labour Market Impact Assessment applications online and has removed this information from the TWFP website. Consult the LMIA Online Portal Resources page frequently for details and updates.

When is a LMIA not required?

There are certain types of workers who are exempt from obtaining an LMIA, 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, French-speaking skilled 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 other documents are required such as proof of identity; proof of employment in Canada for LMIA-exempt work permits; and proof of relationship.

To find out if you need an LMIA when applying for a work permit, visit Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

What happens after a work permit application has been submitted?

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, you’ll get an approval letter to bring with you, and the work permit will be issued at the port of entry on the day you arrive in Canada.

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. If you’re a visitor who is applying for a work permit in Canada and has held a valid work permit in the last 12 months, you can ask to be allowed to work while your application is being reviewed.

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.

Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)

Eligible 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 under CUSMA, without needing a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). They must 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.

In addition, business people who qualify as a business visitor under CUSMA do not need a work permit, whereas a work permit is still required for entry under the other categories. For more information on entering Canada as a temporary worker under CUSMA, visit 665 CUSMA: Doing business with Mexica and the United States.

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.

Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)

Foreign nationals (persons who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents or are stateless persons) from visa-exempt countries entering Canada by air, including those transiting through Canada, will require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). Specifically, visa-exempt foreign nationals must obtain an eTA to travel to or transit through a Canadian airport, but they are not required to have an eTA when arriving by car, bus, train, or boat (including cruise ships). An eTA is not required for travel within Canada.

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.

Who does not need an eTA?

Exceptions from the eTA requirement include individuals who hold a valid Canadian temporary resident visa (TRV) or temporary resident permit (TRP) and certain other small groups.

As of April 26 2022, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States are exempt from the eTA requirement. They must carry proper identification, such as a valid U.S. passport or official proof of status, and a valid passport from their country of nationality (or an equivalent travel document).

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. More information on eTAs is available from the Government of Canada.

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.

More info

Refer to IRCC for the most up-to-date information on:

  • who can work temporarily in Canada,
  • other work programs available,
  • how employers can hire a temporary foreign worker,
  • the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), and
  • other information

Get help

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 .

Immigration law in Canada is complex. Issues such as getting permanent residence or citizenship, sponsoring someone, and coming to Canada to study or work involve many steps and can be overwhelming. To get help, ask a lawyer now.


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