In any given year, there are over 400,000 people in Canada either on work permits or student permits. The government policy is to encourage individuals to enter on a temporary basis for work or study and eventually apply for permanent residence.

Every foreign worker must obtain a work permit under Canada’s immigration regulations in order to legally work in Canada. Canada needs foreign workers possessing required skills, while simultaneously protecting the Canadian work force. The reconciliation of these two competing interests has led to the development of a complex employment confirmation scheme involving the departments of Employment and Social Development Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

Given the government’s tendency to favour work permit entry, there are several routes that you can follow.

Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA)

Most foreign workers coming to Canada require a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), an approval given by a government body called Employment and Social Development Canada which allows you to apply for a work permit at a Canadian consulate abroad. Thus, an LMIA is a powerful letter which is only issued after the Canadian employer has advertised and shown that there are no Canadians available to fill the job shortage or the Canadians who applied do not have their required skills. In this two step process, the employer first obtains approval for the foreign national and then mails you the LMIA so you can apply officially for a Canadian work permit. Such work permits are issued for one year and are renewable provided the job shortage still exists.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

(for American and Mexican citizens)

Under international agreements that Canada has signed with many countries, expedited entry can be obtained not only for skilled professionals but also for intra-corporate transferees who have specialized knowledge or belong to the managerial or executive class. For example, with the NAFTA more than 60 professions qualify for expedited entry and do not require the kind of advertising as in Labour Market Impact Assessments.

The four categories under which you can come to Canada without the Employment and Social Development Canada validation under NAFTA are:

  • Business visitors
  • Professionals
  • Intra-company transferees
  • Investors

NAFTA streamlines the applications by eliminating the LMIA and enables you (after obtaining an offer from a Canadian employer) to apply directly to Canada Immigration for a work permit. No advertising is required and most applicants can apply directly at a Canadian port of entry as opposed to a Canadian visa office. So you could, for example, simply fly to Vancouver International Airport or drive through the Peace Arch border crossing and obtain your work permit directly.

International Experience Class (IEC)

Canada has relationships with many countries whereby a student and young workers or professionals can obtain one to three year entries into Canada and occasionally on “open” permits allowing them to come to Canada to obtain Canadian experience. These applications are usually limited by quotas, but apply to individuals between the ages of 18 and 30. The advantage of an IEC permit allows you to obtain Canadian experience and perhaps even become hired on a permanent full time basis by the Canadian employer. In this case, the Canadian employer would then use one of several schemes to help you obtain permanent residence.

Work permits for students

Not only can students come to Canada to work and ultimately qualify themselves under the Canadian Experience Class, but if studying at immigration approved schools they can get work permits after six full months of study to be able to work part time (up to 20 hours) during the school year and full time during the summers. If you have graduated from a Canadian university or college you can get up to three years of a post graduation work permit, qualifying you for the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).