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Open work permits for dependent family members of foreign workers

By Brittany Trafford and Sean Corscadden

In response to the nationwide labour shortage, the Federal government is allowing select family members of foreign workers to apply for open work permits. This temporary policy came into effect on January 30, 2023 and will remain in effect until January 2025.

Previously, only spouses of foreign workers in the high-skill occupation category were eligible for an open work permit unless they qualified for an open permit under a permanent residency program. Prior to this policy, there was also no opportunity for dependent children of foreign workers to obtain open work permits.

The new temporary policy greatly expands open work permit eligibility. In particular, the policy will help spouses of lower skilled workers and working-age children to work in Canada like their Canadian counterparts.

It is crucial that employers looking to attract qualified foreign workers understand the expanded eligibility for dependent open work permits, as foreign nationals may be more likely to relocate for work when their family members also have options to work in Canada. This change enhances Canada’s competitive edge in attracting skilled international talent.

Eligibility Requirements

In order to be eligible under this policy, there are requirements that both the principal worker and the dependent family member applicant must satisfy.

To qualify, an applicant must be one of the following types of family members:

  • the spouse or common-law partner of the primary foreign worker;
  • the dependent child of the primary foreign worker or of their spouse; or
  • the dependent child of the dependent child (aka the grandchild of the primary foreign worker or of their spouse).

A “dependent child” must be under the age of 22 and be unmarried. This definition includes biological and adopted children of a parent. In some cases, children who are 22 years of age or older, but who are unable to support themselves financially due to a physical or mental condition, may also qualify as a dependent.

These family relationships must be “genuine.” The Government of Canada defines relations that aren’t genuine as those that were entered into primarily for the purpose of acquiring any status or privilege.

Further, the primary foreign worker must either be eligible to work in Canada without a work permit or by virtue of an employer-specific or open work permit under a non-spousal category. In all cases, the primary foreign worker must be authorized to work in Canada for at least 6 months at the time their spouse or dependent child’s open work permit application is received by the government, and they must be living or planning on living in Canada for their employment.

The following primary foreign workers are not eligible to support their spouse or dependent child’s open work permit:

  • Those who were issued a work permit on the basis of having no other means of support.
  • Students who are authorized to work without a work permit on the basis of their study permit.
  • Those who are authorized to work while awaiting the issuance of a post-graduation work permit.

Phased Rollout Plan

The Federal government is rolling out eligibility for this policy in phases. Currently, family members of primary foreign workers in either of the following occupation levels are eligible:

  • High-skilled occupations, which includes management roles, occupations that usually require a university degree or college diploma, or similar training programs. These jobs fall in Training, Education, Experience and Responsibilities (“TEER”) levels 0, 1, 2, or 3 of the National Occupational Classification (“NOC”) system.
  • Low-skilled occupations, which fall into TEER levels 4 or 5 of the NOC system, except where the primary worker obtained a work permit based on a Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, Agricultural Stream, or Low-Wage Stream Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA”). For clarity, TEER levels 4 and 5 include:
    • occupations that usually require a high school diploma or several weeks of on the job training; or
    • occupations that typically require short term work demonstration without formal education.

An overview of the TEER categories can be found here.

In the next phase, the government plans to expand eligibility so that family members of low-skilled workers from the Low-Wage Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program can apply for an open work permit.

Finally, the government will consult with agricultural partners and stakeholders to assess operational feasibility to further expand eligibility for family members of agricultural workers who are authorized to work based on an LMIA under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program or Agricultural Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Application Requirements

Family members looking to apply for an open work permit under this temporary policy will need evidence of their family relationship with the primary foreign worker. They will also be required to produce evidence that the primary family member’s work permit will remain valid for 6 months after the application date. Finally, they must demonstrate that the primary foreign worker is in a TEER category 0, 1, 2, or 3 if applying as the family member of a high-skilled worker, or that the primary foreign worker is in a TEER category 4 or 5 if applying as the family member of a low-skilled worker. A letter from the employer of the primary foreign worker confirming their job title and duties will be helpful to all applicants and will be required where the primary family member is an open work permit holder themselves or is authorized to work without a permit.

Conclusion

The government’s temporary policy to expand open work permit eligibility to family members has huge potential to support employers in Canada that are trying to hire candidates in a tough labour market. It will also support family members in joining the labour market and help them to feel connected with our communities while allowing them to gain work experience. This measure therefore supports both Canada’s ability to attract skilled labour and to retain foreign workers and new immigrants.


This update is intended for general information only. If you have further questions about these programs or are an employer seeking to support your workers, please contact a member of our Immigration Group.

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