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Top 5 pathways for work authorization in Canada

approved work permit stamp

Corporations, entrepreneurs, and individuals often look for work arrangements in Canada for various reasons. Working in Canada can be an attractive option for individuals and businesses who are looking for an alternative to a U.S. work arrangement while maintaining geographic proximity to U.S. business hubs.

For most types of “productive work” to take place in Canada, in most cases a Canadian work permit will be needed. This post will provide an overview of the top 5 common pathways that employers, employees, and entrepreneurs can use to obtain temporary work authorization in Canada. For permanent residency pathways, please see some of our other posts here and here.

1. Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) based work permit

The LMIA-based work permit is the default procedure that requires a company to test the Canadian labor market for a particular position for 4 weeks, and, if no suitable Canadian candidate is found, the company is given permission to “sponsor” a work permit to bring in a temporary foreign worker for that job.

On the worker’s side, the worker is given permission to enter Canada to work for the specific employer that applied for the LMIA on the worker’s behalf. If the worker wants to change employers or any condition of their job while they are working, the worker needs to apply and be approved for this change before they can do so.

A special category within LMIA-based work permits is the Global Talent Stream program, available to certain types of IT related professions or for specially designated employers. If the position and/or employer falls under this category, the employer is exempt from the “4-week recruitment” requirement and will receive expedited processing on the LMIA, within 2 weeks. The work permit processing will also be expedited to 2 weeks.

2. LMIA Exempt – Treaty-based Work Permits

Another common work permit category is one based on a reciprocal treaty between Canada and certain countries, the most representative example being the CUSMA (Canada-US-Mexico Agreement). A CUSMA-based work permit does not require an LMIA and you can apply at the port-of-entry (PoE), similar to how the TN visa process works for Canadians seeking work authorization in the US. This option is only available for a limited category of occupations, such as accountants, graphic designers, computer systems analysts, management consultants, veterinarians; you must also possess the related degree, license, or other form of qualifications listed in the regulations.

In addition to the CUSMA, there are other treaty-based work permit options for Chile, Colombia, Peru, South Korea, EU, Trans-Pacific Partnership signatories, and the UK.

3. LMIA Exempt - Intracompany Transferees

Similar to the L visa in the U.S. context, Canadian companies that are affiliated with a foreign company can apply to bring in “special knowledge” or “executive or managerial” employees without needing to apply for an LMIA.

  • The corporations must be affiliated either as parent/subsidiary or as sister corporations under common control;
  • The employee must have worked at the foreign affiliate for at least 1 year in the last 3 years; and
  • The employee must either have specialized knowledge (advanced experience and proprietary knowledge about the company’s products or procedures) or be an executive or manager at a senior level.

4. LMIA Exempt - C11 Entrepreneur Work Permit

For entrepreneurs seeking to set up and operate their own business in Canada, the C11 entrepreneur work permit could be an option. The business owner must prove:

  • The individual has skills, background, and experience to set up a successful business in Canada or take over an existing business.
  • Own at least 50 percent or higher stake in the business.
  • Prove that the business will result in “significant economic, social or cultural benefits or opportunities for Canadian citizens or permanent residents.”

Key to this application is the “significant benefit” argument, which can be through general economic support (e.g., job creation, expansion of markets), advancement of Canadian industry (e.g., technological development, product innovation, improving the skills of Canadians), increased health and well-being of society, and increased cultural diversity and tolerance.

5. LMIA Exempt – Treaty-based Entrepreneur Work Permit

Finally, for certain countries that have signed a reciprocal treaty with Canada, the “treaty investor” work permit is also an option for entrepreneurs. Analogously to the E-2 visa in the U.S. context, an entrepreneur can obtain a work permit by meeting the following requirements:

  • Be a national of a treaty country (or permanent resident in Australia, Colombia, and Peru);
  • The entreprise is majority-owned by treaty country nationals;
  • Applicant is coming to “develop and direct” the enterprise, usually evidenced by applicant’s controlling (over 50%) interest in the enterprise;
  • “Substantial” investment in the enterprise;
  • The business must be real and operating;
  • The business must not be marginal.

In sum, there are a variety of work permit options that an individual, employer, or business could explore to pursue a Canadian work arrangement. In navigating this process, it is important to be aware of all the procedures, eligibility, and compliance requirements to ensure you are choosing the best option for your needs.

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