Open Work Permit for U.S. H-1B Visa Holders

Last updated: 24 July 2023

OWP for H1 B Visa Holders

Effective July 16, 2023, Canada is offering a new Open Work Permit (OWP) program for holders of United States H-1B visas.

Note: The cap of 10,000 applications for this program has been reached. Click here to explore other visa options.

Eligible U.S. H-1B visa holders are able to apply for this OWP, with added provisions for their spouses and dependants to also receive work and study permits as needed. 

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What is the new H-1B Open Work Permit Program?

Note: The cap of 10,000 applications for this program has been reached. Click here to explore other visa options.

Effective July 16th, 2023 this new program allows eligible holders of an H-1B visa to apply for an OWP in Canada, for up to three years. In addition, spouses and dependents of approved H-1B visa holders are also eligible for work and study permits as needed, with the ability to apply for temporary resident visas as well.

This OWP program is set for one year, or until the 10,000-principal applicant cap has been reached.

The H-1B OWP pathway comes as part of Canada’s newly announced Tech Talent Strategy, which will work to promote Canada as a destination to tech workers, improve on existing immigration pathways like the Global Skills Strategy (GSS) managed programs and the Start-Up Visa (SUV) program.

The Tech Talent Strategy will also create pathways (under the new “Innovation Stream”) for these professionals, within the International Mobility Program (IMP). This stream is set to be launched by the end of 2023, as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) deliberates with stakeholders on specifics.

What is the Eligibility Criteria for the H-1B Open Work Permit Program?

To be eligible for Canada’s H-1B visa holder open work permit, you need to:

  • have a valid H-1B specialty occupation visa, and
  • currently live in the U.S.

In order to apply for the open work permit, you need:

  • a copy of your current H-1B visa
  • Form I-797/I797B, Notice of Action (the letter from the U.S. government confirming your H-1B application was approved)
  • proof that you live in the U.S. (such as Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, a recent utility bill, an income tax report, or any document that proves you live in the U.S.)

What are H-1B Visas, and Who Get Them?

H-1B visas are non-immigrant visas (i.e.: they don’t grant permanent residence to holders) granted by the United States to allow employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations. These visas are intended for individuals with specialized knowledge and skills in fields such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Though H-1B visas encompass professions outside of STEM, it is likely that these professions will be the ones considered for Canada’s new OWP, as part of the newly announced Tech Talent Strategy.

Will tech workers without an H-1B benefit from this program?

While the newly announced OWP is specifically for holders of a H-1B visa, the program, and the wider Tech Talent Strategy that it falls under are evidence that Canada is making renewed efforts to attract international tech talent to the country.

Tech workers without an H-1B visa, may still see favourable outcomes through already existing immigration pathways made to cater to them—like the Global Talent Stream (GTS), GSS, IMP, and the newly instated category-based Express Entry selections.

How does immigrating to Canada vary from the United States?

Apart from observable differences in geography, culture, infrastructure, economy, etc. H-1B visa holders considering this new OWP program may want to note how much more accessible attaining permanent residence (PR) is in Canada, when compared to the United States.

Both H-1B visas, and the OWPs that the Canadian government is offering are economic class visas, meaning that those seeking to move from their work permit to PR in either country will be considered under economic class streams (the people applying through them are working professionals).

In the United States, economic class applicants are allotted 140,000 spaces yearly meaning that annually this only this number of economic class applicants are given PR (known in the United States as a “Green Card”). Moreover, this number does not just take into account principal applicants (those applying) but also their dependents as well. This means that the actual number of yearly spaces for economic class applicants may be much less than the stated 140,000 figure. Lastly the United States also imposes per country quotas, stating that no nationality (from either economic or family class streams) can make up more than 7% of total number of immigrants given PR in a fiscal year.

Canada on the other hand, has a much more open immigration policy for newcomers. Under the current Immigration Levels Plan, Canada will welcome 848,595 economic class immigrants between 2023-2025 (representing principal applicants, not their dependents). This is more than double the 420,000 economic immigrants and dependents that the United States will welcome in the same period. Additionally, while immigration quotas in the United States have remained the same year-over-year, Canada continually reassess its need for immigration, often expanding targets year-over-year as evidence by the levels plan. Finally, Canada does not have the same per-country limits, instead assessing individuals based on human capital factors reflected in their Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) scores—meaning that individual candidates will not be hampered by the number of people of their nationality who already received PR that year.

What is the potential pathway to PR for those in the new OWP program?

As mentioned, those accepted into the new H-1B OWP program would be considered under economic class immigration, should they decide to pursue PR.

All economic immigration streams require at least one year of full-time eligible work experience, after which applicants may apply to a program of their choosing for PR. Most commonly for economic class immigrants, this the Express Entry system of programs (the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), and the Canadian Experience Class (CEC)), or the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). It is likely therefore that those interested in PR will pursue it under these programs.

Once work permit holders become eligible for they can enter the Express Entry pool, and wait till they receive an ITA based on either their CRS score, or their eligibility to the STEM category for selection-based draws. Under the PNP the process is similar, with applicants uploading a profile and waiting to receive a Notification of Interest (NOI) from a specific province or territory, inviting you to apply for PR there. Note that this can also occur under Express Entry aligned streams, which are known as Enhanced Provincial Nominations.

Tech workers may stand a better chance of receiving PR under these programs, not just due to the fact that many provinces (through the PNP) look for tech workers to come and work in their province, but also due to newly instated Express Entry category-based selection draws, which target STEM professionals (among five other categories) to receive invitations to apply (ITAs) for PR.

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