When hiring in Canada (or expanding your company's operations to the Great White North), you need to know for sure that all your employees in Canada are authorized to work there.
It's illegal to employ workers who don’t have work authorization—and running afoul of the law could mean facing severe penalties, including fines, imprisonment, or even a ban on hiring foreign workers.
Before you make your first Canadian hire (or transfer an existing employee to Canada), read our guide. Below, you'll find what you need to know, like who needs a work visa, how to apply for one, and other frequently asked questions about work permits for employees in Canada.
What is a work permit in Canada?
A work permit (or work visa) in Canada is a document issued by the Canadian government that allows foreign nationals to work legally in Canada for a specific period of time, after which they need to either renew their work permit or return to their home country.
Work permits are issued by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), a government agency that helps newcomers settle in Canada.
In Canada, work permits are usually issued based on a job offer from a Canadian employer who has demonstrated that they have made reasonable efforts to fill the position with a Canadian citizen or permanent resident but have been unable to do so.
Who needs a work visa in Canada?
Foreign nationals who aren’t Canadian citizens, and don’t have permanent residency in Canada, usually need to obtain a work permit to work in Canada.
However, there are some exceptions:
- Temporary business visits where the worker is not entering the Canadian labor market.
- When the worker is a student on a study permit, which allows them to work up to 20 hours per week during the academic session without a separate work permit.
- Workers who are artists, performers, coaches, news reporters, or similar who are entering Canada to perform, compete, or otherwise work without entering the Canadian labor market—provided they meet certain exemption criteria.
When you send an offer letter to a new hire in Canada, it should include a clause about the offer being contingent on their eligibility to work in Canada legally.
Hiring someone in Canada? Rippling lets you create and customize a compliant offer letter for every hire.See Rippling
How long does it take to get a work permit in Canada?
Canada work permit processing times vary depending on the applicant's country of origin, whether an LMIA is required, which work permit program they're applying to, and other factors. Typically, permits are processed in one to 27 weeks.
Types of work visas in Canada
There are two main types of work permits in Canada. If your business plans to bring foreign nationals to work in Canada, you'll likely become familiar with employer-specific work permits. If you plan to hire employees who are already living in Canada, you may come across open work permits.
- Employer-specific work permits. As the name suggests, these visas allow foreign nationals to work only for one specific employer. The permit contains information about the employer, the location of work, and the duration of work. Foreign nationals typically apply for this type of work permit after receiving an offer of employment from a company in Canada.
- Open work permits. Open work permits are more flexible, and allow foreign nationals to live in Canada and apply for open work positions in the country. These types of work permits might be issued to new graduates who are looking for work after finishing university study in Canada or the spouse of someone who has been issued an employer-specific work permit.
Canada offers these work permits under two main programs:
- Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Meant to help fill gaps and shortages in Canada's labor market with skilled foreign workers.
- International Mobility Program: Meant to promote Canada's economic, social, and cultural interests by allowing certain types of foreign nationals to live and work in Canada to strengthen ties with other countries and promote arts, culture, sports, and religion in Canada.
No matter the type of work permit a foreign national receives in Canada, it will include stipulations and conditions based on their own circumstances—why they immigrated to Canada, their education and experience, the province they live in, and more.
Application process for Canada work visas
- Before the worker applies, their employer needs to find out if they need a Labor Market Impact Assessment, or LMIA (formerly known as a Labor Market Opinion, or LMO). Foreign nationals applying for visas under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program require an LMIA. Those applying under the International Mobility Program do not.
- The employer must provide a copy of the positive LMIA (if applicable) along with a detailed job offer letter, which doubles as an employment contract, with information about the role, salary, working location, and other relevant details.
- The worker applies for the visa. They can start the process online. They'll be required to submit documents including their positive LMIA, job offer, proof of identity, health records, financial records, and biometrics. They may also need to meet with a visa officer.
- If the worker meets the eligibility requirements for a visa, they'll receive an approval letter. They can present this letter at the port of entry when they arrive in Canada, where they'll receive their work permit.
After working for at least one year with a temporary work permit, the worker can apply for a permanent work permit. The government of Canada offers three programs for foreign nationals to obtain permanent work permits:
- Federal Skilled Worker Program
- Federal Skilled Trades Program
- Canadian Experience Class
Workers can apply for any of the three programs through the online Express Entry system for Canadian immigration. The exact requirements vary by visa program and by each applicant's circumstances, but some requirements are standard for all three programs and all applicants. All application packets require:
- Work permit application forms
- Passport or travel documents
- Education credential assessment report
- Language test results
- A written job offer letter from a Canadian employer
- Police certificate
- Medical exam
- Proof of funds
The Federal Skilled Worker program also uses a point-based system called the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS), where applicants are awarded points for their English or French language skills, education, work experience, adaptability, and arranged employment. Applicants must score a minimum of 67 out of 100 points to qualify for the visa program.
Not sure what type of visa your employee would need? We offer immigration services backed by top tier immigration advisers, and sponsor work visas in many countries. Enquire for more information.
Frequently asked questions about work permits for employees in Canada
What is a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA)?
A Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) is a document issued by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) that assesses the impact that hiring a foreign worker would have on the Canadian labor market. Employers who want to hire foreign workers through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) are generally required to obtain an LMIA before they can offer a job to a foreign worker.
The purpose of the LMIA is to ensure that the employment of foreign workers will not have a negative impact on Canadian workers. To obtain an LMIA, the employer must demonstrate that they have made reasonable efforts to fill the position with a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, but have been unable to do so. They must also demonstrate that they will provide wages and working conditions that are similar to those offered to Canadian workers in similar occupations and geographic areas.
How do you get an LMIA?
To obtain an LMIA, a company must apply to ESDC. The application must include detailed information about the company, the position being offered, and the efforts that have been made to hire Canadian citizens or permanent residents for the job.
The employer must advertise the job in Canada for a minimum of four weeks before they can apply for an LMIA, and they must demonstrate that they have made reasonable efforts to recruit Canadian workers. The job advertisement must be posted on at least three different recruitment platforms that are widely used in the area where the job is located.
Once the application is received, ESDC will review it to ensure that the employer has met all of the requirements for obtaining an LMIA. This may include verifying that the employer has provided accurate information, that they have made reasonable efforts to recruit Canadian workers, and that the wages and working conditions being offered are consistent with Canadian standards.
If ESDC approves the application, they will issue a positive LMIA, which the employer can use to hire a foreign worker for the position. If the application is denied, the employer may have the option to request a review of the decision or to submit a new application with additional information.
Is an LMIA required for all work permits?
Some types of work permits are LMIA-exempt. See below for details.
Job offer required?
Temporary Foreign Worker Program
Facilitated LMIA (Quebec)
Global Talent Stream
International Mobility Program
NAFTA Work Permits
CETA Work Permits
Post-Graduation Work Permits
Spousal Sponsorship from Inside Canada
International Experience Canada (working holiday visa)
Bridging Open Work Permit
Spouse Accompanying International Student or Worker
Do US citizens need a work permit to work in Canada?
Canada has a special agreement with the United States and Mexico called the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, or CUSMA (formerly the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA). CUSMA allows certain workers from the US and Mexico to work in Canada without a work permit. This includes:
- Business visitors
- Intra-company transfers
- Traders and investors
What documents are required to apply for a Canada work permit?
When applying for a Canadian work permit, a worker will need:
- A valid passport or travel document
- Two photos of themselves and any accompanying family members
- Evidence that they meet the requirements for their prospective job
- Certificat D’Acceptation du Quebec, if required
- Proof of relationship with spouses, children, and common-law partners
- Completed Application For Work Permit Made Outside of Canada (IMM 1295) form, if applying from outside of Canada
- Completed Document Checklist (IMM 5488)
- Completed Family Information (IMM 5645) form
- Completed Schedule 1 – Application for Temporary Resident Visa form
What’s the fastest way to get a work permit in Canada?
There's no way to rush the process. You can reduce processing times for a Canada work permit by applying for an LMIA-exempt permit if you qualify. You can also avoid processing delays by making sure your application packet is complete and contains all the necessary forms and documents the first time you submit it.
How much does it cost to get a Canada work permit?
Two types of fees are required for work permits in Canada: an application fee and a biometrics fee. Fees below are listed in Canadian dollars (CAD).
Type of applicant
Family (at least three people)
Are family members included in work visa applications in Canada?
Family members are not included on the same work permit, but when one member of a family applies for a work permit in Canada, they can request to have their spouse or common-law partner and dependent children accompany them. If their spouse or partner wants to work in Canada, they can request an open work permit. Children may require a study permit to attend school in Canada.
How do you renew your Canadian work permit?
If your work permit is set to expire or you need to change the conditions of your permit, you can submit a new work permit application. This must be done at least 30 days before your work permit expires, and work permits can't be renewed beyond your passport's expiry date.
Is there a limit on the number of work permits you can obtain in Canada?
It depends on the type of work permit you receive. For example, you can only obtain a post-graduation work permit once, while many other types of work permits can be renewed.
After working in Canada, work permit holders who wish to stay in the country can apply for permanent residency, eliminating the need for a work permit. Otherwise, they can renew their work permit or apply for a new type of permit, if the one they have isn't renewable.
Hire and set up employees in Canada with Rippling
Whether you’re a Canadian employer or based overseas, Rippling can help you hire, onboard, and set up employees in Canada within minutes.
- Onboard employees and contractors in 90 seconds.
- Sponsor work visas in Canada with Rippling’s immigration services, backed by top-tier legal advisers.
- Manage HR, IT, and Finance in one unified system.
Rippling makes it easy to hire and manage your workforce in Canada and all over the globe
Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.