Visas and Work Permits 6 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 team member, they must have the correct work permits and visa to live and work in the country.

However, making sure team members have the right documentation to work abroad is a tricky process — especially if you have no prior knowledge of Canadian immigration and labor laws. Working with an employer of record (EOR) like Remote to hire team members abroad can help you minimize risks and ensure that you’re hiring and paying employees compliantly.

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 to acquire the right documents to work in Canada legally. 

Why is immigration compliance important in Canada?

Canada is an attractive country for workers and businesses to settle in, but its work permit and visa requirements can be stringent. If you and your employee fail to comply with them, you may receive penalties, and fines, or have to face legal consequences (or both).

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 overstaying in countries, or working illegally on the wrong type of visa. This can create issues for your company, and authorities are cracking down.

This is why it’s essential to make sure that employees have the right documentation and remain in compliance with local employment regulations while living and working in Canada. 

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Who is eligible to work in Canada?

Canadian citizens are, by default, eligible to work in Canada (even if they currently live abroad), as are permanent residents. If your team member isn’t either of the above, then they will need to acquire a valid visa and a work permit.

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

Visas and work permits in 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 must be renewed. It is not a travel document.

A visa, meanwhile, allows the recipient to physically enter Canada (and re-enter if they leave), and is granted based on the recipient’s proposed activity (in this case, working).

Note that, while every foreigner requires a work permit to work in Canada, not every foreigner requires a visa. We will discuss this further 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 create 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.

Getting a work permit in Canada

Unlike many countries, Canada doesn’t require you (as the employer) to sponsor your people’s work permit applications. Instead, your team members must apply on their own (although they may require supporting documents from you, such as employment contracts).

To get a work permit, your team member must 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 in Canada: an employer-specific permit, and an open permit.

Employer-specific work permit

As the name suggests, this permit allows your team members to work in Canada, but only for you — and only under specific 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 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 the recipient to work for any employer in Canada, provided that 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 strict conditions and to certain people.

Eligibility requirements for a work permit in Canada

Generally, the requirements for both of these work permits are the same. Specifically, your team member must:

  • Prove to an immigration officer that, if they do not renew their work permit, they will leave Canada when the permit expires

  • 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

  • Not “be a danger” to Canada’s national 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 team member is applying for the work permit from inside or outside of Canada.

Anyone can apply for a work permit from outside Canada, but your team member 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 claimed refugee protection, or have been recognized as a convention refugee by the Canadian authorities

  • They’re an intra-company transferee or professional under CUSMA.

link to Guide on hiring in Canada
Canada
13 min

Guide on hiring in Canada

To hire employees in Canada, companies must first know the laws of the province in which the prospective hire lives and works. While Canada does enforce some federal labor laws, individual provinces have a lot of say on Canadian labor laws, payroll processes, benefits, taxes, and other factors.

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

As mentioned, Canada doesn’t require you to “sponsor” your team member’s work permit application. However, you must submit a labor market impact assessment (LMIA). This document demonstrates that you need a foreign worker to fulfill the role, and that there are no available suitable Canadian candidates.

Once you have obtained a positive LMIA, you must give a copy to your team member 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 team member 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 team members the right to work in Canada. In many cases, they may also require a visa or an electronic travel authorization (eTA) to legally enter and stay in Canada.

This depends on several factors, including where your team member is 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.

Alternatively, if your employee is from a visa-exempt country or region such as the UK or the European Union, then they will need an eTA.

Otherwise, they will likely require a temporary residence visa (TRV). If this is the case, your team member will need to fill out an application, either online or at their nearest visa application center (VAC).

 Note that your team member can apply for this authorization while they are waiting for their work permit to be processed. This process may take up to 30 business days.

Does Canada offer a digital nomad visa?

Yes. Canada announced the introduction of 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.

How Remote makes compliance in Canada so much easier

Hiring or relocating employees to Canada can be a stressful process for both employers and employees. You’ll need to have a strong understanding of local labor rules and employment legislation, and make sure employees have the correct documentation in place to live and work legally in the country.

An EOR can help you hire, pay, and manage workers abroad by handling benefits, payroll, taxes, and compliance with immigration regulations. Remote’s team of employment experts knows the local laws and can help you avoid the risks of permanent establishment and help you remain compliant every step of the way. For a step-by-step breakdown of the steps involved in international relocation and how you can make it seamless, download Remote’s insightful Relocation Guide. If you need guidance or advice on relocating employees to Canada, contact our Mobility team to learn about your options.

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