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A foreign national who wishes to work in Canada generally requires a work permit. Work permits allow people to quickly begin working in Canada and can be a stepping stone toward Canadian Permanent Resident visas.

A work permit is generally required for a foreign national who intends to "work" in Canada. For Canadian immigration purposes, work 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 labor market. Any activity that does not take an opportunity from a Canadian to be employed or gain work experience is not considered work eg: volunteer work or work done by phone/internet where the person is employed by a company outside Canada.

There are 2 roads to obtain a work permit:

  • 1. Labor Market Opinion (LMO) based Work Permits

Some work permits require an LMO from Human Resources and Social Development Canada (ESDC). Upon reception of an application from the Canadian employer, ESDC will evaluate the impact on the Canadian labor market using factors such as wages and working conditions and the availability of Canadians or permanent residents to do the work in question. A positive LMO will only be given to an applicant where the impact on Canada's labor market is likely to be neutral or positive. The positive LMO is required in order to receive the work permit.

  • 2. LMO Exempt Work Permits

Some types of work permits may be issued without the need for a positive LMO. The criteria for these LMO exempt work permits are very specific and clearly defined. Exemptions fall into two main categories: those based on International Agreements, and those based on Canadian Interests.

A. International Agreements: example North America Free Trade Agreements (NAFTA)

NAFTA facilitates temporary entry for citizens of the United States and Mexico who are involved in business, the trade of goods or services, or in investment activities. NAFTA removes the need for an LMO for all business people covered by the agreement. Most work permits under this category can be obtained at a Port of Entry.

There are four categories of NAFTA work permits: (1) business visitors, (2) professionals; (3) intra-company transferees and (4) traders and investors.

In addition to NAFTA, there are other international agreements that facilitate the entry of foreign workers, to which Canada is a party.

B. Canadian Interests

There are three types of work permits in this category.

i. Significant Benefit: example Intra-Company Transfers:

Work permits for Intra-Company Transferees are LMO-exempt when a foreign worker is seeking entry to work temporarily at the Canadian branch or affiliate of a multi-national company and when they are taking a position in a senior managerial or specialized knowledge capacity.

ii. Reciprocal Employment: example Youth Exchange Programs:

This type of visa is for applicants aged 18-35 who want to travel and work in Canada. It is not employer specific and does not require a job offer, but there is a maximum number of visas issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

iii. Designated by the Minister: example Open Work Permits:

An open work permit enables the person to seek and accept employment, and to work for any employer for a specified period of time. An open permit may, however, restrict the occupation or location. These work permits are primarily available for spouses or common law partners of temporary foreign workers and foreign students.

Either of the two roads to a work permit may lead you closer to permanent residency in Canada. Obtaining a work permit and/or a permanent full-time job offer from a Canadian employer increases the number of options available to you for obtaining a Canadian Permanent Resident visa.

Do you have Canadian work experience? Fill out our free, online Canadian immigration eligibility questionnaire to find out if you qualify for a Canadian Immigration (Permanent Resident) visa.