Canada Immigration UpdateCanadian Open Work Permit

Families of Some Work Permit Holders are Now Eligible for OWP

Published on: December 6th, 2022

It was announced on December 2nd by Canada’s immigration minister Sean Fraser, that IRCC will begin to extend Open Work Permits (OWP) to the spouses and working-age children of some current Work Permit holders under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

Changes to OWP Eligibility

Starting in January 2023, through a temporary 2-year measure, Canada will expand eligibility to work in Canada to spouses and working-age children through a phased approach for workers at all skill levels. 

The extension of OWPs to families of some closed work permit holders is a massive step towards enticing more immigrants to settle in Canada. Spouses of international students, and Canadian permanent residents and citizens had already had the ability to be sponsored by their spouse for an OWP. However Prior to this announcement, spouses often were only eligible for a work permit if the principal applicant was working in a high-skill occupation. This newest update is another step in granting families the opportunity to keep their families together and support themselves. This eligibility expansion is also telling of Canada’s willingness to receive more newcomers and an important step for families to be able to support themselves while in Canada.

The IRCC has issued over 645,000 work permits between January and October 2022—nearly 4 times more than the 163,000 issued over the same period in 2021. This newest update is expecting over 200,000 new work permit applications as a result of this policy change. 

The program is expected to be implemented at the start of 2023, as a temporary two-year measure in three phases:

  • Phase 1 will enable family members of workers coming to Canada through the high-wage stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or the International Mobility Program to apply for an open work permit .
  • Phase 2 aims to expand the measure to the family members of workers from the low-wage stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, following consultations.
  • Phase 3 will include consultation with agricultural partners and stakeholders to assess operational feasibility for expanding the measure to family members of agricultural workers.

What is a Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP)?

A Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP) allows the spouse of certain temporary Canadian permit holders to work anywhere in Canada, for any employer, with few restrictions.

Prior to this announcement, spouses were only eligible for a work permit if the principal applicant was working in a high-skill occupation. This temporary measure aims to improve the emotional well-being, physical health and financial stability of workers by keeping families together. As a result, it is expected that the worker will better integrate into their overall work environment and community.

In order to qualify for a spousal open work permit, you must meet certain minimum requirements, including:

  • Must be in a genuine relationship with a qualifying foreign national principal applicant, permanent resident, or citizen;
  • Must be eligible to apply as the spouse of a qualifying foreign national, or as an in Canada sponsorship applicant (see above); and
  • Are not criminally or medically inadmissible to Canada

Additional criteria will vary depending on the category of SOWP you are applying under.

Why Are Higher Immigration Targets Needed?

Canada has historically welcomed high numbers of newcomers to help keep its economy strong. Currently, Canada is facing a unique period of historic labour shortages alongside nearly one million job vacancies. Both are driving factors in the country’s growing immigration targets.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of job openings across the country reached an all-time high at nearly one million. This was an increase of 2.7% from the previous peak in the last quarter and over 80% above pre-pandemic levels. This has been the highest on record in recent years.

Vacancies have  continued to rise in specific key sectors. Some of the hardest hit have been the health care and social assistance sector. The health care and social assistance sector has been growing rapidly due to the aging population. The shortage has been further exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Canada faces an acute shortage of skilled workers, many businesses struggle to find the right people to fill positions. To help address this problem, Canada has turned to immigration to fill record numbers of job openings, a trend that is expected to continue in the future to meet labour demands and fill important jobs.

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