Moving to Canada alone isn’t easy, especially if that means leaving your family back home. If you’re studying in Canada or working in Canada temporarily, you may wish your spouse or common-law partner could join you. Thankfully, if you have a Canadian work permit or study permit, your spouse or common-law partner may be eligible to work in Canada, as well.
Having your partner with you can provide crucial moral and financial support to help you settle into your new life. In this article, we explain what a spousal open work permit (SOWP) is, the eligibility criteria you or your spouse must meet to obtain one, and the process to get a spousal open work permit in Canada.
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What is a spousal open work permit (SOWP)?
A spousal open work permit (SOWP) allows the spouse or common-law partner of a work permit or study permit holder to work for any eligible employer in Canada. The SOWP is not employer-specific, which means you don’t require a Canadian job offer to apply for one. Instead, you can come to Canada and continue your job search after you arrive.
Moreover, employers don’t need a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) from Employment and Social Development Canada to hire applicants who have an open work permit, so it’s relatively easier for a SOWP holder to find a job in Canada.
Who is eligible for a spousal open work permit in Canada?
The IRCC allows spouses or common-law partners of temporary residents to apply for a spousal open work permit under two LMIA-exemption categories:
- If your spouse or partner has a Canadian work permit, you may be eligible to apply for a SOWP under the C41 LMIA-exemption category. Most work permit categories are accepted for this exemption, including open work permits, such as Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWPs), Bridging Work Permits (BOWP), and employer-specific work permits.
- If your spouse or partner has a Canadian study permit and is a full-time student, you may be eligible to apply under the C42 LMIA-exemption category. In most cases, your partner must be enrolled in a study program that allows them to qualify for a Post-Graduation Work Permit after they graduate.
As the spouse of a work permit or study permit holder, these two categories make the process to apply and obtain a work permit easier for you. If you apply under either category, you are not required to submit a Labour Market Impact Assessment or proof of an offer of employment from an employer.
Eligibility for a spousal open work permit by program
Canada has several different temporary residence permits, and unless you know your spouse or partner’s exact status in Canada, it can be confusing to figure out whether you’re eligible for a spousal open work permit. You may be eligible for a spousal open work permit if your spouse or common-law partner (the principal foreign national) has one of the following:
An Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP) work permit
If your spouse or common-law partner (as the principal foreign national) has applied for permanent residence (PR) under the Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP) and has received a work permit while their application is being processed, you can apply for a SOWP under section C41 provided your spouse or partner currently works in Canada in an occupation that’s classified under TEER category 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4.
A work permit as a CSQ (Québec selection certificate) holder
A Quebec Selection Certificate (CSQ) is issued by the Quebec government to applicants who’ve been selected for immigration to the province. If your spouse or common-law partner (as the principal foreign national) has an employer-specific work permit as a CSQ holder and is eligible for the International Mobility Program Plus, you can apply for a SOWP under section C41.
A work permit and a provincial nomination from a province other than Quebec
Many Provincial Nominee Programs require a job offer, and often applicants are allowed to apply for a work permit and begin working in the province while their permanent residence application is being processed. If your spouse or common-law partner (as the principal foreign national) has a work permit issued under any category, works at any occupational level, and has a provincial nomination from a province other than Quebec, you can apply for a SOWP under section C41.
A Bridging Open Work Permit (BOWP)
If your spouse or common-law partner has a BOWP, which is a permit to work while waiting for the results of a PR application, you can apply for a SOWP under section C41. As the principal foreign national, your spouse or common-law partner must be in Canada, although you may live outside Canada. Applications for both can be submitted together if you are both living in Canada, but the SOWP cannot be issued before the BOWP.
An open work permit other than BOWP
If your spouse or common-law partner (as the principal foreign national) has an open work permit that is not a BOWP, such as a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) or a work permit through International Experience Canada (IEC), you can apply for a spousal work permit through section C41.
A study permit
Your spouse or common-law partner must be enrolled in a post-graduate program in Canada that is a work permit eligible program to apply through section C42. Spouses cannot apply for a SOWP if they are already study permit holders, themselves.
Permanent residence in Canada
If you’re being sponsored by your spouse to become a permanent resident under the Family Sponsorship program, you can apply for an open work permit once you receive your acknowledgement of receipt (AoR) letter.
General eligibility requirements to apply for a SOWP
To be eligible for a spousal work permit, you must meet the following requirements.
Must be in a genuine relationship
If you’re the spouse or common-law partner applying for a SOWP, you must be in a genuine relationship with the principal foreign national. You won’t be considered a spouse or common-law partner if you were married primarily to acquire temporary or permanent resident status in Canada. You’ll be asked to submit proof of your relationship, including documents that show you’ve lived together for at least one year.
Valid work permit or study permit holder
For you to qualify for a SOWP, your spouse or common-law partner must have either an employer-specific or open work permit (in a non-spousal category) or be authorized to work in Canada without a work permit. Alternatively, they must have a valid study permit and must be enrolled as a full-time student at a Canadian designated learning institution (DLI).
Duration of primary foreign national’s work or study permit
Your spouse or common-law partner must have at least six months’ validity remaining on their work or study permit at the time your SOWP application is submitted.
Type of occupation
Until recently, only spouses of workers in high skill occupations were eligible to apply for an SOWP. However, from January 2023 to 2025, the Canadian government is temporarily expanding the eligibility to work in Canada to spouses of most work permit holders at all skill levels. This policy is being implemented in a phased manner.
You may be eligible for a SOWP if your spouse or common-law partner:
- Works in any occupation in Canada classified under TEER category 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 (except a TEER 4 or 5 job under the low-wage stream of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program and the Agricultural Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker program), or
- Has an open work permit in Canada, or
- Has applied for permanent residence under an economic class immigration program and has a valid work permit.
The eligibility criteria for spousal open work permits may change; check the government website for updates before submitting your application.
Documentation required to apply for a SOWP
Once you’ve determined you’re eligible to apply for a spousal open work permit, you can prepare your necessary documentation to efficiently complete the application process. Here are the documents you’ll need:
- Proof of a genuine relationship: You’ll need to provide a marriage certificate or declaration of common-law relationship. You may also need to submit joint property ownership or rent documents or other important documents with the same address as proof that you’ve been living together for at least one year.
- Proof of your spouse’s or common-law partner’s status in Canada: If your spouse or common-law partner (as the principal foreign national) is a work permit holder, you may need to provide any of the following documentation:
- A copy of the offer of employment or contract from your spouse’s current employer
- Copies of their last three pay stubs
- A copy of their work permit.
- If your spouse is a study permit holder, you may need to provide the following:
- An enrollment letter that indicates your spouse attends a designated learning institution
- Evidence that your spouse is a full-time student in a PGWP-eligible study program and institution
- Copy of their study permit.
- Acknowledgement of Receipt (AOR) letter: if you’ve applied for PR and your application is still being processed, you’ll need to provide your AOR which confirms that the IRCC received your application and has begun processing it.
- Your passport: Before applying for a SOWP, be sure to check the expiry date of your passport. Your work permit won’t be valid beyond the expiry date of either your passport or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s work permit—whichever is earlier.
- Biometrics: You’ll need to provide biometrics, unless you’ve submitted them within the last 10 years as part of a previous application and they’re still valid.
- Medical or criminal background check: You may be required to submit a medical or criminal background check.
- Proof of payment: You’ll need to pay the applicable processing fees and submit proof of your payment with your application.
How to apply for a spousal open work permit
You may apply for a SOWP from inside, or outside of, Canada. The IRCC requires all applicants to apply online, however exceptions are made under certain circumstances.
Ready to apply? These are the steps you’ll need to complete:
- Have a scanner or camera handy to create electronic copies of your documents, passport, or other identity document if you don’t have a passport.
- Read the instruction guide before you complete your application. The guide will explain how to complete each field on the form.
- Gather all the necessary documents. You’ll receive a personalized document checklist when you apply online.
- Complete the document checklist and your required forms.
- Register for an IRCC secure account or sign into your existing account.
- Fill in the forms carefully and completely.
- Sign and date your forms.
- Pay the required fees, submit your application and all supporting documents online.
Application fee for a spousal open work permit
You’ll have to pay an application processing fee of $340 to apply for a spousal open work permit. This includes a processing fee of $155 plus an open work permit holder fee of $100, and a biometrics fee of $85. Keep in mind, you may incur additional costs associated with your application, such as renewing a travel document/passport, courier, photocopies, printing, or other expenses.
Processing time for spousal open work permit
The processing time for your SOWP can vary based on a number of factors, such as the type of permit or visa your spouse or common-law partner has and the country from which you’re applying. Check the government’s processing times page for up-to-date information.
Validity of spousal open work permits
The length of your spousal open work permit is linked to the validity of your spouse’s or common-law partner’s permit. Your work permit will expire on the same date, unless your passport expires sooner. Once your passport expires, your open work permit is no longer valid.
If your spouse or partner gets their work or study permit extended or their status in Canada changes (such as if they are moving from a study permit to a PGWP), you can reapply for a new open work permit. However, you cannot extend your existing spousal open work permit.
Can dependent children be added to a spousal work permit application?
Yes, dependent children can qualify for a visitor record for the duration of your spousal open work permit and can accompany you to Canada. Working age dependent children (under the age of 22) may also be eligible for an open work permit.
As a family, being able to live in Canada together can make it easier to settle down and start your new life. A spousal open work permit allows you to accompany your spouse or partner to Canada as they study or work, and find employment that will add to your family’s income, so you can begin to feel at home in Canada.