Work in Canada: Do you Need a Canadian Work Permit?

Last updated: 22 February 2023

Work in canada

A work permit enables a foreign national to work in Canada temporarily. Canada offers more than 100 different options to foreign workers.

These options fall under two broad programs: the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). 

The difference between the two programs is the TFWP requires a labour market test, known as the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). 

Navigating Canada's work permit options can be difficult but we seek to make it as easy for you as possible. Cohen Immigration Law is a leading Canadian immigration law firm with over 45 years of expertise. Please complete our contact form if you wish to schedule a free telephone consultation with our work permit lawyers.

Table of Contents

Canadian Work Permit Types

There are two types of work permit programs in Canada:

  • Temporary Foreign Worker Program: A Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) is required for a foreign national to obtain a work permit
  • International Mobility Program: An LMIA is not required for a foreign national to obtain a work permit

The purpose of the LMIA is for employers to demonstrate to the Canadian government that the hiring of a foreign worker will not have a negative impact on Canada's existing workforce. The federal department of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) wants to ensure that the hiring of foreign workers will not displace existing workers in Canada nor place downward pressures on their wages. Workers that need an LMIA fall under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

Although the LMIA process is the rule, there are many different LMIA-exempt work permits, resulting from free trade agreements, such as the former North American Free Trade Agreement, now known as the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, or CUSMA. These free trade agreements enable foreign workers to apply for a work permit without their employer having to obtain an LMIA. In addition to these employer sponsored work permits, there are a number of work permit options available to foreign workers who do not yet have a job offer, including working holidays, post-graduate work permits, and open spousal work permits. Workers who do not need an LMIA fall under the International Mobility Program (IMP).

These are among the common scenarios under which one can work in Canada:

LMIA Required

These work permits require the employer to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment as part of the process.

Learn more

LMIA Exempt

Certain circumstances allow for individuals to work in Canada without first obtaining a Labour Market Impact Assessment.

Learn more


These are issued under the Canada-United-States-Mexico Agreement (formerly NAFTA), allowing work without an LMIA.

Learn more

Intra-Company Transfers

These permits will allow a company to bring certain employees to Canada from its offices abroad without a LMIA.

Learn more

Business Visitors

In many cases, business visitors may work in Canada without a work permit, so long as they meet certain conditions and don't enter the Canadian labour market.

Learn more

Post-Graduation Work Permits

After graduating from a Designated Learning Institution, international students in Canada may work for up to three years.

Learn more

Evaluate Your Work Permit Options

If you have a job offer from a Canadian employer and are unsure of what to do next, check out our Work Permit Services to get an introduction on what you need to acquire the proper authorizations to work in Canada. Cohen Immigration Law would be happy to assist you with the process from beginning to end.

The province of Quebec has its own requirements for working Quebec. To start, you are required to obtain a document called a CAQ as part of the process. You should also note that Quebec has its own list of occupations that allow for an expedited Labour Market Impact Assessment to be issued. We are familiar with the intricacies of immigration and work permit applications to the province of Quebec, with many of our specialists fluent in French. To benefit from our experience, contact us and be sure to let us know that you have a job offer in the province of Quebec.

Canada has a special relationship with the United States and Mexico that allows certain individuals to work in Canada. The former NAFTA is now called the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) allows individuals to work in Canada under a CUSMA work permit. CUSMA is broken down into four categories, covering professionals, intra-company transfers, traders and investors, and allows such individuals to circumvent the traditional work permit process. Contact us today, and be sure to note that you are a citizen of the United States or Mexico.

If you are a Canadian employer who is looking to hire a worker from abroad, we would be happy to advise you on the proper steps to bring that worker to Canada. Our Work Permit specialists will discuss your business needs with you, the qualifications of the worker that you have in mind, and the options that you have for getting that worker to Canada. Depending on your needs, you may need to apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment. Alternatively, there may be specific programs that are geared toward addressing your needs on an expedited basis through an exemption, such as through an intra-company transfer. To see what options are available to you, contact us today and let us know about your business needs.

Canada offers many different work permit pathways to global tech talent that have a job offer in the country including through free trade agreements such as CUSMA. One of the most prominent pathways is called the Global Talent Stream. The Global Talent Stream enables tech talent to obtain federal government authorization to work in Canada within one month. Please contact us if you are a worker or employer looking to obtain a work permit for tech talent through the Global Talent Stream or plethora of other options that may be at your disposal.

Labour Market Impact Assessments are not required for TV and film workers in Canada, but foreign workers and producers must still comply with Canada's work permit requirements. Click here to learn about how to obtain work permits for TV and film.

In addition to Entrepreneur Work Permits, be sure to look into Canada's Entrepreneur Start-Up Visa Program if you have business management or entrepreneurial experience. You should also explore our page about International Business Start-ups In Canada to learn more about using an intra-company transfer work permit to start a new business in Canada.

There are a number of programs that allow self-employed individuals to work in Canada under certain circumstances. If you are looking to work in Canada on a self-employed basis, the process may be a bit complicated. However, we would be happy to assess your qualifications for working in Canada contact us to learn more about your options.

Depending on the amount of time that you have studied in Canada, you may be eligible for a Post-graduation Work Permit (PGWP). This work permit is an excellent opportunity for you to develop Canadian experience, especially if you are looking to apply for Canadian immigration under Express Entry, the Provincial Nominee Program, or through Quebec. Reach out to us for PGWP assistance.

If you are looking for work in Canada or already have a job offer from a Canadian employer and are unsure of what to do next, we have the perfect tools to get you started. You may also wish to check out some of our great employment resources, such as our Job Search Tool or our other Career Coaching Tools.

Contact Cohen Immigration Law for Assistance

Frequently Asked Questions

Canadian employers wishing to employ a foreign worker in Canada must first obtain authorization from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), otherwise known as a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Canadian employers must demonstrate that employing a foreign worker will not have a negative impact on the Canadian labour market in most cases, and that there is currently no Canadian citizen or permanent resident available to fill the position. This is typically accomplished by advertising the position on several venues, thus demonstrating there was no suitable Canadian for the job. A LMIA is a very rigorous and comprehensive process that is subject to a high level of scrutiny from the government, and thus must be completed without errors.

Two Canadian federal departments are responsible for work permits. If a Labour Market Impact Assessment is required, the department of Employment and Social Development Canada will review the LMIA application and make a decision on whether or not it approves the application.

The process of obtaining a work permit is handled by the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Once an LMIA has been approved, you submit a work permit application to IRCC. If an LMIA is not required, you also apply to IRCC to get a work permit. The work permit provides you with the legal authority to work in Canada for a temporary period of time.

There are general requirements that all applicants must fulfil, and specific ones they need to fulfil based on the work permit stream they are applying under. For example, you are applying under a work permit stream that requires an LMIA, you need to submit the following documents to IRCC as part of your work permit application:

  • a job offer letter
  • employment contract
  • a copy of the LMIA
  • the LMIA number

Generally speaking, all applicants need to demonstrate they will leave Canada when their work permit expires, they have enough money to financially support themselves in Canada, they do not pose a risk to public health and safety, and will not work for ineligible employers or in ineligible occupations.

Processing times vary based on a number of factors such as whether a Labour Market Impact Assessment is required, the work permit stream that you are applying under, and the country in which the worker is currently located. Check out CanadaVisa's immigration processing time tool for estimates.

If you have a work permit that is about to expire or if you need to make changes to the conditions of your work permit, you need to submit a new application at least 30 days before your work permit expires. You are not allowed to extend your work permit beyond your passport's expiry date.

An open work permit is one that enables a foreign worker to work for any employer in Canada. Open work permits do not require foreign nationals to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment or a job offer when applying to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for a work permit.

Closed work permits require a foreign worker to only work for the employer who has obtained a positive LMIA and provided them with a job offer. If a foreign worker is no longer going to work for this employer, they need to apply to change the conditions of their work permit if they wish to continue to legally work in Canada.

The PGWP is available to international students that have completed an eligible program of at least 8 months of full-time studies at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI). The purpose of the PGWP is to enable international students to gain professional work experience which they can go on to use to become eligible for a Canadian immigration program. If you meet the PGWP's eligibility criteria, you can submit your application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The ultimate length of your PGWP depends on the duration of your studies in Canada. The maximum length of time of a PGWP is 3 years. Generally speaking you can only obtain a PGWP once. By the time your PGWP has expired, you either need to have obtained Canadian permanent resident status, or obtained another temporary permit, or leave Canada.

Your spouse or common law partner can apply for a work permit so long as they meet the eligibility criteria of an LMIA-required or LMIA-exempt work permit. One option available to Canadian citizens and permanent residents is the Spousal Open Work Permit.

The Spousal Open Work Permit allows eligible individuals living in Canada to obtain a temporary work permit while their spousal sponsorship application is being processed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). This work permit enables the person awaiting sponsorship to work for any employer in Canada.

Yes, you can apply for a work permit on its own or in combination with a permanent residence application. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) recognizes the concept of "dual intent."

No, there are no limits. Each work permit has a validity period. Certain work permits do not have limits on the number of times they can be extended while work permits such as the Post-Graduation Work Permit can only be obtained once. If you have a work permit that can not be extended, you can apply to obtain a work permit under another category in which you are eligible.

Your work permit will contain conditions, including those that will be written on the work permit itself.

If you are on a closed LMIA-required work permit, for example, conditions will include the type of work you can do, which employer you can work for, where you can work, and how long you can work.

There are other standard conditions that apply to all foreign workers such as being required to leave Canada at the end of your stay.

Yes, assuming your work permit remains valid, you can submit an application to have it extended while you are living in Canada.

IRCC strongly encourages you to apply for your work permit before you travel to Canada, however some foreign workers are eligible to apply for one upon arrival.

Individuals who want to apply for a work permit at a Canadian port of entry (POE) must meet the following conditions:

  • be eligible for an electronic travel authorization (eTA) or be able to travel to Canada without a visitor visa
  • meet all of the other requirements of the work permit stream you are applying under

According to IRCC, a job offer letter is provided to you by an employer in Canada that explains the details of your job. It is less detailed than a contract and is not the same as a "job offer letter." Rather, it outlines your pay, job duties, and conditions of employment. You need to include a copy of your job offer letter if you need to apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). If an employer does not need an LMIA to hire you, they need to submit their offer of employment on the Canadian government's Employer Portal. After the submission, the portal will generate an offer of employment number that the foreign worker needs to apply for their work permit.

Some foreign workers need to complete a medical exam if they are looking to work in a job that requires the protection of public health. Examples of such jobs include health services, child care, or primary or secondary education. In addition, you may need to complete a medical if you will be working in an agricultural job and lived in a designated country or territory, or if you want to work in Canada for over six months and you resided in a designated country or territory for six straight months in the year right before the date you plan to move to Canada. The list of designated countries and territories are listed on the Canadian government's website.

Workers and employers usually need to pay fees for the Canadian government to process work permits. IRCC lists its fees on its website.

Workers on an LMIA-required work permit need to pay the work permit processing fee.

Workers on an LMIA-exempt work permit need to pay the open work permit holder fee as well as the work permit processing fee at the same time.

Employers who need an LMIA need to pay a processing fee for the LMIA application. Employers that do not need an LMIA still need to pay an employer compliance fee when submitting their offer of employment onto the Canadian government's Employer Portal.

IRCC will provide you with a "Port of Entry" (POE) Letter if you have received approval for a work permit. The letter is also called a "Correspondence Letter", "Introduction Letter", or "Introductory Letter". This letter is not your work permit, but it is important since you must show this to Canadian border officials when you arrive to the country.

Your POE letter will contain a section entitled "Permit validity" that will inform you of how long it is valid for. If the validity date expires, you need to submit a new application.

Validity lengths for International Experience Canada (IEC) participants only is usually 12 months. If you took a medical exam, your POE Letter will be valid until the expiry date of your medical exam or for 12 months (whichever of the dates is less).

Yes you can. Please keep in mind that your work permit is not a travel document, so it does not give you the right to travel to Canada. Rather, it gives you the right to work in Canada. In addition to your valid work permit, you need a temporary resident visa or an electronic travel authorization (eTA).

Full-time students do not need a work permit if they are enrolled full-time. Study permits will automatically authorize the holder to work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week during the academic session, and full-time during scheduled breaks, without the need to apply for a separate work permit. The study permit holder must be pursuing academic, vocational or professional training of six months or more that leads to a degree, diploma or certificate at a designated learning institution (DLI).

To work in Canada, international students must be registered and enrolled at a designated learning institution and obtain a Social Insurance Number (SIN) from Service Canada. Additionally, they must continue to meet the conditions of their study permit to remain eligible to work off-campus.

International students participating in general interest or preparatory courses, or studying English or French as a second language (ESL/FSL), will not be eligible to work in Canada during their studies. It is the responsibility of the individual and of their employer to ensure that they are eligible before beginning work in Canada. International students who begin working in Canada without meeting the eligibility requirements may be subject to enforcement action under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations.

Yes. In limited circumstances, it is possible to be exempt from needing a work permit to perform work in Canada over a short period of time.

Under the Global Skills Strategy (GSS), there are two categories of individuals who may enter Canada to perform work without requiring a work permit.

While a work permit is not needed under Global Skills Strategy, applicants must apply for a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) or an electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), if applicable.


To qualify for the work permit exemption, Researches must demonstrate:

  • They will be working in Canada for one period of 120 days every 12 months; and
  • They will be performing research at a Canadian, publicly funded, degree-granting institution or its affiliated research institution.

Highly Skilled Workers

To qualify for the work permit exemption, Highly Skilled Workers must demonstrate:

  • They will be working in a position that is considered skill type 0 (executive, managerial) or skill level A (professional) in the National Occupational Classification (NOC); and
  • They will be working in Canada for one of the following periods of time:
    • Up to 15 consecutive days once every 6 months; or
    • Up to 30 consecutive days once every 12 months.

Workers who have been granted entry under the Global Skills Strategy must stop working once the exemption ends. They must wait until they are eligible for another exemption under this category, or they may choose to apply for a work permit.

As a general rule, work permits apply to a specific employer. If an individual changes employers he or she must apply for a new work permit. Only workers admitted to Canada on an open work permit can change employer without reapplying. Open work permits are the exception and may be available to the spouses/common law partners of certain work permit holders, the spouses/common law partners of foreign students in Canada, asylum seekers, in-land sponsored family members, and destitute students in Canada.

A medical examination is always required before commencing work in an occupation in which protection of the public health is essential. Otherwise, depending on the country of residence, an applicant may be required to take a medical exam prior to approval of the work permit if the job offer exceeds six months.

Yes, a spouse/common law partner and dependant children can accompany or follow a temporary worker to Canada. In many cases, persons entering Canada on a work permit may request that an open work permit be issued for their spouse/common law partner. In some instances, children may require a study permit to attend school in Canada.

The Canadian government charges $155 CAD per work permit application. Additional fees would be necessary if a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) or Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) is also required.

Contact the Cohen Immigration Law Firm for Assistance

Do you need work permit assistance? The Cohen Immigration Law Firm can help. We offer over 45 years of expertise assisting workers and employers obtain Canadian work permits.

Please complete our short form to submit your question directly to our law firm. One of our lawyers will contact you to schedule a free telephone consultation.

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