Visas and Work Permits 8 min

Work permits and visas in Canada: an employer’s guide

Written by Sally Flaxman
Sally Flaxman


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If you’re hiring in Canada or relocating an existing employee, they must be eligible to work there.

In most cases, this usually means that your hire is a Canadian citizen.

However, if your hire is a non-citizen, then you need to ensure they have a valid visa and work permit. As the employer, you are usually responsible for acquiring these.

This can be a tricky process, especially if you have no prior knowledge of Canadian labor laws.

In this guide, we’ll explain the basics of work permits and visas in Canada, and show you the various steps you may need to take (depending on your employee’s status). We’ll also touch on the regulation around digital nomads.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why is eligibility important?

Canada is a hugely attractive country for workers and businesses to settle in, but its work permit and visa requirements can be complex. If you and your employee fail to comply with them, you may receive fines, penalties, ongoing scrutiny, and reputational damage.

These risks are only growing, too, especially as trends shift towards remote work and governments start to reassess their existing policies. For example, there are many instances of workers on tourist visas overstaying in countries. This can create issues for themselves and the companies they work for, and authorities are cracking down.

As a result, it’s crucial to ensure that everything is above board, and that your people have the right paperwork.

Who is eligible to work in Canada?

In the majority of cases, Canadian citizens and permanent residents (PRs) are eligible to work unrestricted in Canada, even if they are currently living abroad.

However, if your employee is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident (i.e. a non-citizen), they will need to acquire a Canadian work permit and visa.

Here’s how the process works — and what you need to do.

Visas and work permits for non-citizens of Canada

In Canada, work permits and visas are not the same thing.

A work permit authorizes the recipient to work in Canada under set conditions. It expires after a set time, and needs to be renewed. It is not a travel document.

A visa, meanwhile, allows the recipient to physically enter Canada (and re-enter if they leave). There are many types of visas that are granted based on the recipient’s proposed activities, such as studying, working, seeking asylum, or doing business.

Note that not every non-citizen requires a visa to work in Canada (we will discuss this in more detail in the ‘visas’ section of this article).

It’s also important to note that the expiry dates of work permits and visas do not always align, which can potentially cause issues. For example, if your employee’s visa expires before their work permit, they will still be allowed to work in Canada — but they might not be able to leave and re-enter.

To work legally in Canada, your employee may require both a work permit and a visa.

Getting a work permit in Canada

To get a work permit, your employee will need to meet strict eligibility requirements, as outlined by the Canadian government. They will also need to apply for the right type of permit, as detailed below.

Types of work permits in Canada

There are two types of work permits for non-citizens of Canada: an employer-specific permit, and an open permit.

Employer-specific work permit

As the name suggests, an employer-specific work permit allows your employee to work in Canada, but only under certain conditions. Usually, this means:

  • They can only work for your company (they will need to re-apply for a new work permit if they join another company)

  • The permit will expire after a certain period of time, and will need to be renewed

  • They can only work in the specific location or region outlined in the permit

Open work permit

An open work permit allows someone to work for any employer in Canada, provided the employer:

  • Is not listed as non-compliant under the Temporary Foreign Worker or International Mobility Programs

  • Does not run a sex work-related operation

Open work permits are only available under certain conditions and to certain people.

Eligibility requirements for work permits in Canada

The requirements for both types of work permit are the same. Specifically, your employee must:

  • Prove to an immigration officer that, if they do not renew their work permit, they will leave Canada upon its expiration

  • Prove that they have enough money to take care of themselves (and, if relevant, family members) during their stay in Canada

  • Have no record of criminal activity (your employee may need to provide a clearance certificate)

  • Not “be a danger” to Canada’s security

  • Be in good health

  • Provide any documents as requested by the immigration officer handling the case

There are also specific requirements depending on whether your employee is applying for the work permit from inside or outside of Canada.

Anyone can apply for a work permit from outside Canada, but your employee can only apply for a work permit from inside Canada if:

  • They have a valid existing study or work permit

  • Their spouse, common-law partner, or parents have a valid study or work permit

  • They’re eligible for a post-graduation work permit (and their study permit is still valid)

  • They have a valid temporary resident permit

  • They’re already waiting on a decision on an application for permanent residence

  • They have made a claim for refugee protection, or have been recognized as a convention refugee by the Canadian authorities

  • They’re an intra-company transferee or professional under the Canada-Mexico-United States Agreement (CUSMA)

How do I sponsor my employee’s work permit in Canada?

Before your hire can apply for an employer-specific work permit, you must submit a labour market impact assessment (LMIA). This document shows that you require a foreign worker to fulfill the role, as you are unable to find a Canadian citizen or PR with the relevant skill set.

Once you have obtained a positive LMIA, you must give a copy to your employee along with a copy of the employment contract. They will need these two documents to apply for and obtain an employer-specific work permit.

You can learn more about the full process here.

Note that, if your employee is going to be based in Quebec, they will also need to apply for a Quebec Acceptance Certificate (QAC) from the Quebec provincial government.

Getting a visa in Canada

As mentioned, a work permit only gives your employee the right to work in Canada. In a lot of cases, they may also require a visa or an electronic travel authorization (eTA) to legally enter and stay in Canada.

What your employee will need depends on a number of factors, including where they are from. For example, if they hold a US passport (or possess a US Green Card), your employee will not require a visa or an eTA.

If your employee is from a visa-exempt country or region (i.e. the UK or the European Union), then they will need an eTA. Otherwise, they will require a temporary residence visa (TRV).

How do I sponsor my employee’s visa?

If your employee requires a TRV, they will need to fill out an application online or at their nearest visa application center (VAC).

Your employee can apply for authorization while waiting for their work permit to be processed. This process may take up to 30 business days.

Digital nomad visas in Canada

With the rise of remote work and globally-dispersed teams, more and more individuals are adopting the digital nomad lifestyle. In response, governments across the world are implementing new legislation and — in some cases — specialist visas to adapt to this trend.

Does Canada offer a digital nomad visa?

Yes. Canada announced a digital nomad visa scheme in July 2023, allowing employees of a foreign company to stay in the country for up to six months (under visitor status). There is no salary threshold.

This is unsurprising, given that Canada is regularly seen as one of the world’s friendliest countries for digital nomads. Indeed, the city of Toronto is ranked as the number one destination on the planet for remote workers.

Currently, there has been no formal announcement on how to apply for a digital nomad visa. Further details on the process are expected in late 2023.

As you can see, there’s plenty of administrative work to do if you want to hire a non-citizen or relocate an employee to Canada.

As well as helping you manage your employees’ onboarding, taxes, and payroll, we can also support you with their relocation process. Specifically, we will:

  1. Set up a consultation with one of our mobility experts

  2. Review your employee’s existing visa and citizenship status

  3. Review the visa and work permit requirements for the desired country relocation

  4. Review your employee’s eligibility

  5. Fill out the paperwork (with assistance from you and your employee)

  6. Submit the application

This ensures that any potential hiccups are identified quickly, and that the process is as quick and smooth as possible — for both you and your employee.

To learn more about how you can make the entire relocation process easier, check out our in-depth relocation guide.

Alternatively, book a consultation with one of our friendly mobility gurus — and get the process moving today.

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