The Expat’s Guide to Canadian Work Visas
Working in Canada is a very popular option for expats. Jobs in Canada are in fields as diverse as the service industry, natural resources, and manufacturing are growing. There is a high demand for applicants with international experience and diverse language skills. Plus, Canada is a safe, welcoming, multicultural destination. However, while working in Canada is great, the same can’t be said of obtaining Canadian work visas. There is a long list of possible visas and work permits to suit every situation. While this sounds nice, in reality just researching which program is right for you is a confusing and arduous process. Program terms can sometimes vary by province, which adds another layer of complexity.
For expats eager to check out Canadian work visas, you’ll need patience and strong organizational skills. These are some of the most popular programs to help get you started.
Understanding “Business People” and “Business Visitors”
These two similar-sounding names are confusing and there’s a big difference between them. Business people are allowed to enter Canada and apply for work permits if they qualify under certain preexisting agreements. These include the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), other Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
Of particular note, CUSMA lets citizens of Canada, the United States, and Mexico enter each other’s countries for business reasons. Canadian employers can offer a job to a Mexican or American worker without the extra step of a labor assessment. Normally, all Canadian employers must have a Labour Market Impact Assessment or LMIA that proves the job they’re offering cannot be filled by a Canadian. Under CUSMA however, this condition is waved for a number of professions.
Business people, including those from Mexico and the United States, still need a work permit to work in Canada. CUSMA and the other trade agreements just make the process easier and more streamlined by eliminating the LMIA and other requirements.
A business visitor is anyone entering Canada from any destination for professional purposes. These visitors do not intend to contribute to the labor market. In other words, business visitors are going to Canada FOR work but not TO work. This term applies to people coming for conferences and workshops, as well as those curious about relocating and eager to check out a city and maybe set up some preliminary meetings. While business visitors do not require a work permit, they may need a tourist visa, depending on their country of origin.
Canadian Youth Work Opportunities
Additional opportunities for streamlining the work permit process exist for youth and new graduates. International Experience Canada (IEC) is a program designed to promote traveling and gaining work experience for youth age 18 to 35. If you’re a student, new graduate, or young person from a select number of countries, IEC can streamline your efforts to come work in Canada.
The IEC program is a reciprocal agreement between Canada and more than 30 different countries. This doesn’t mean that work visas are waived for participants. Instead, applicants are all entered into a “pool” and selected at random. After selection, they are invited to apply for a relevant visa as a young professional or working holiday applicant. The IEC program makes it easier to get work visas under more flexible terms and applications are processed more quickly than other visas.
General Work Permits in Canada
If you want to work in Canada temporarily, you’ll need a work permit. Depending on your circumstances, you’ll need either an open work permit or an employer-specific work permit. In most cases, all work permits – whether they are open or not – are valid for a six-month term with options for review.
Regardless of which work permit you apply for, you must be able to demonstrate that you will leave Canada when your permit expires. You must also demonstrate that you have no criminal history, that you are in good health, and that you have sufficient financial resources to take care of yourself and your family members. As such, you will likely be required to supply the following:
- police clearance certificate
- medical exam
- banking documents
In almost all cases, it’s advisable to apply for your work permit before you enter Canada. However, there are some exceptions. You might be able to apply if you’re already in Canada, depending on your situation. If you already have a valid study or a different work permit, you can apply for a new one. You can also apply if your spouse or parents have a valid study or work permit. Finally, if you’re waiting on a decision about permanent residency or if you already have a temporary resident permit, you can apply from within Canada.
Open Work Permits
An open work permit (often called the International Mobility Program) allows you to work for almost any employer in Canada. However, there are two exceptions. Your employer must not appear on a list of employers who have previously failed to comply with visa conditions. They must also not regularly offer escort services, erotic dance, and similar services.
Not all open work permits are truly open. Some let you change employers but not your occupation. Others let you change employers but not your location. The final decision rests with the government and is based on your application.
While open work permits offer the greatest flexibility, things aren’t so flexible when it comes to applying. Only a narrow list of applicants in specific circumstances qualify. See eligibility requirements.
Employer-Specific Work Permit for Canada
The majority of employer-specific work permits fall under the purview of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. This program consists of four categories of workers. They include highly skilled workers and, since 2002, low skilled workers. Additionally, they also include two industry-specific categories, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and the Live-In Caregiver Program.
As you might imagine, an employer-specific work permit is more restricted than an open work permit. It allows you to work according to the conditions of your permit and nothing more. The permit can include the name of the employer you can work for, how long you can work, and where you can work. Before you submit your application for an employer-specific work permit, your future employer must do some work on your behalf. They must give you a copy of their Labour Market Impact Assessment, which demonstrates that they cannot fill the job using the Canadian labor force. Alternatively, they can provide an employment number to include with your paperwork.
How To Get Permanent Residency in Canada
If you’re hoping that your work experience in Canada will one day lead to permanent residency the Federal Skilled Worker Program or Federal Skilled Trades Program is well worth looking into. Under the Skilled Programs, you must have at least one year of full-time work experience in management, a professional occupation, a technical occupation, or a skilled trade. However, this is just the beginning of the process for permanent residency. Canada uses a complex system when calculating eligibility for immigration. This takes criteria such as language skills, work experience, and age into account.
In many cases, the province of Quebec has a different administrative process than the rest of Canada. If your future job lies in that province, the Quebec Skilled Worker Program, through the Ministère de l’Immigration, Francisation et Intégration Québec (MIFI) has additional information and resources.