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Work permit: a pathway to permanent residency in Canada

Updated: May 19

For Vietnamese version, please click here.

For many foreign nationals, Canada represents a land of opportunities, a chance to work or to run a business and to start a new life. According to the Canada Immigration Levels Plan for 2022-2024, this country aims to welcome over 1.3 million new permanent residents during this period. Of this number, the economic category occupies more than 60% (1). To obtain permanent residency (PR) under this category, there are numerous different pathways, such as Worker programs, Business, and Provincial nominee programs, depending on your work or study experience, your assets, and your language ability (English or French). Some immigration programs even provide a direct path to permanent residence. For others, however, most foreign nationals are required to settle temporarily in Canada first with a work permit before applying for PR on-site.

In this resource, we address some commonly asked questions about how to get a Canadian work permit, including whether you need one, the type of work permits Canada offers, the eligibility criteria, and the application process.

Why is a work permit needed?

A work permit is a legal document permitting a foreign national to engage in employment while inside of Canada. The work permit also has a specific validity period and sets out conditions that the foreign national must not breach. According to the statistics of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), since January 2015 until the end of December 2021, approximately 600,000 work permits were issued for temporary foreign workers around the world. 2790 Vietnamese applicants were granted work permits for this period (2).

Canada is fast becoming known for welcoming skilled, professional, or in-demand workers as well as entrepreneurs who wish to establish their own businesses. Since 2017, there has been a steady rise in the number of work permits issued by Canada to foreign workers, and this increase even continued in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2790 Vietnamese applicants were granted work permits from 2015 to 2021

What’s the difference between PR and work permit status?

A work permit only allows the holder to work and reside in Canada for the duration of the permit, after which an application for extension is required. Meanwhile permanent residence allows the holder to live and work permanently in Canada. For more detail about the rights of a permanent resident, please visit:

However, a Temporary Work Permit may be an important step to Canadian permanent residence. Once in Canada on a temporary work permit, a foreigner may qualify for Canadian permanent residence under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) through a Skilled Worker category, or through one of the Provincial Nominee Programs, or the Start-up Visa (with optional work permit).

What are the different types of work permit?

Broadly, there are two different types of work permit commonly issued in Canada. The first of these is an employer-specific work permit that limits the employment of the immigrant worker to a specific agreed employer. Employer-specific work permit also contains conditions as to where and for how long holders are permitted to work. The second type of work permit is an Open Work Permit. Open work permits are less restrictive than employer-specific permits, as they will allow the holder to work for the vast majority of employers in Canada (with very limited exceptions).

What are the requirements for obtaining a work permit?

The requirements that an applicant will need to meet when applying for a work permit will differ depending on whether the application is made from within Canada (e.g., by a foreign graduate from a Canadian university who is still legally in Canada), or from outside of Canada. The general requirements for work permit applications are that applicants are in good health, do not have criminal records, will be working in eligible jobs (i.e., not in prohibited professions), are able to satisfy immigration officials that they will leave Canada at the end of their employment (if relevant) and do not pose a threat to national security. For employer-specific work permit, there is also a need to obtain a labor market impact assessment (LMIA) or to show that the job in question is exempt from the need to undertake a LMIA. Where a LMIA is required, it must be demonstrated that there are no Canadian citizens or permanent residents currently available and appropriately qualified to perform the relevant job.

Entrepreneurial Activities and Work Permits

The entrepreneur/self-employed work permit is intended for foreign entrepreneurs who operate their own business in Canada. In such cases the work permit could be exempt from the need for a LMIA. These individuals may seek temporary residence or eventual permanent residence. Applicants must demonstrate that their business will be a significant economic, social, or cultural benefit to Canadians. As mentioned, a work permit is required for anyone intending to work in Canada. This applies even where an immigrant intends to be employed by their own newly established business. For this reason, entrepreneurs who intend to establish businesses in Canada under the Start-up Visa route or applicable entrepreneur streams of provincial nominee programs (PNP) will still need to apply for a work permit. However, this will be an employer-specific work permit linked to their own business and will be exempt from the earlier mentioned LMIA, making the process slightly more straightforward.

What are the benefits for work permit holders?

Benefits of work permit holders

Firstly, work permits generally enable applicants and their eligible dependents to reside temporarily in Canada. However, please note as a reminder that the application for a Canadian Work Permit does not automatically include the spouse, common-law partner, or any dependent children of the applicant. In order to accompany you to Canada, your family members will each need to apply for their own permits.

Work permit holders and their dependents may be entitled to free access to many necessary medical services as well as access to social services for the duration of their work permit. Spouses of work permit holders may also be eligible to apply for an open Work Permit. Contrary to the closed work permit, an open permit is not tied to a specific job or employer, giving them the opportunity to explore their options and be hired by any Canadian employer once they have arrived in Canada.

Any minor child accompanying you also has the option to apply for an Open Study Permit, which would grant him/her permission to study at any of Canada’s elementary and secondary educational institutions in Canada. The public education system is free at the elementary and secondary levels.

Work permit holders and their dependents have a chance to apply for permanent residency when meeting relevant immigration program requirements.

It is also possible to obtain Canadian citizenship after 3 years as a permanent resident. Certain periods spent in Canada under a work permit can be counted towards the physical presence requirements for Canadian citizenship (3).


  1., 14/02/2022

  2., 31/03/2022

  3., 17/05/2022

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