Which Canadian work permits are best for your employees?


Canadian business owners rely heavily on foreign workers to fill skill and knowledge gaps within their organizations. In fact, in 2022, a record-breaking 608,420 Canadian work permits took effect, up 47% compared to 2021. 

But for many employers, understanding which work permits their foreign employees need in order to work in Canada can be overwhelming. 

To help provide some clarification, and in honour of Immigration Fraud Prevention Month taking place in March, we’ve broken down the most common work permits available in Canada. 

International Mobility Program (IMP) 

The International Mobility Program (IMP) allows Canadian employers to hire foreign workers so they can obtain  a Canadian work permit without the need for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). 

A LIMA-exempt work permit helps fast-track the permitting process so you can get foreign employees working for your business more quickly. 

Employers hiring workers through IMP must pay a $230 employer compliance fee, and job offers must be posted in the IRCC’s Employer Portal. This portal helps create an audit trail for employer compliance and can help the government verify their role for up to six years after the employee enters the country. 

Foreign workers who are eligible for the International Mobility Program (IMP) include:

  • Those entering Canada as part of trade treaties, such as the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) or Canada-United Kingdom Trade Continuity Agreement (CUKTCA)
  • Those entering Canada through an intra-company transfer

[Read our blog post: 5 tips for managing post-pandemic business-based immigration]

Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)

If you have a prospective hire who lives in the United States or Mexico, and you want them to come and work for your company in Canada, they may qualify for a work permit through the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), formerly the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). If they have American or Mexican citizenship and their education and experience is related to these approved professional occupations, they may be able to use this treaty to legally work in Canada. 

Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)

Similar to CUSMA, if you are looking to hire an employee from the European Union, they may be eligible through the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Again, they will need citizenship from a recognized EU country and must have education and experience related to these professional categories

Canada-United Kingdom Trade Continuity Agreement (CUKTCA)

The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland are no longer part of the European Union, so they now have a separate trade agreement with Canada. If your employee resides in the UK, they may be eligible to work for you in Canada under this treaty, provided they have British citizenship and work experience and education related to the same professional categories as CETA

Intra-Company Transfers

An Intra-Company Transfer allows multinational companies to transfer employees working in a country outside Canada to one of their related businesses within Canada. This transfer can be to a branch office or a subsidiary business. 

Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) 

If your prospective employee is not eligible for a work permit under any of the IMP categories, then employers must conduct a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). An LMIA is a more time-consuming process compared to an IMP work permit. 

Under LMIA, employers must spend at least one month advertising the job on three or more approved sites, including the Canada Job Bank. Based on the results of that one month of advertising, the employer then has to interview any qualified Canadian citizens or permanent residents that applied for the job.

If the employer has already identified the person they want to hire that lives outside of Canada, they have to explain why that person is the only one who can do the job, be it fit, knowledge, experience or specialized skill. Once they submit the LMIA application and it’s approved, the employee is given a confirmation code which is used to obtain a work permit. The employee will also need to get a visa on top of their work permit that allows them to travel to Canada. 

This process is currently taking roughly 4 to 6 months, so it’s not a quick option and definitely takes longer than an LMIA-exempt work permit. 

The risks of a rejected work permit application 

By law, employers cannot prepare work permit applications on behalf of their employees. This means they need to hire lawyers or immigration consultants that are regulated to complete the application for their prospective hires. 

Aside from the legality of hiring a lawyer, getting expert advice on filing your work permit application is a good idea because there’s so much room for error. It’s critical that the information you provide is accurate and factual and that there is no misrepresentation in your application. 

If there is an error in your application, even by accident, the prospective employee could be barred from re-applying for a work permit for up to five years. The employer may also be blacklisted as a bad employer on the immigration list and be forbidden from using foreign workers in the business going forward. There are also fines for those who lie on their application, up to $25,000 per incident. 

Even if you don’t face any punishment as a result of an application that’s refused, it’s incredibly difficult to successfully reapply after a rejected application, which is why it’s so important to ensure it’s done properly the first time. 

Getting help from an immigration expert 

It’s worth working with a lawyer who specializes in Canadian immigration law as they will work in a professional, fast and accurate way to get your new employee into Canada and working to help grow your business as soon as possible. They’ll also work with your business to discuss strategy, timing, costs and what you can expect throughout the process. They’ll then manage the process for you from start to finish. 

If you need help getting work permits for international employees, we can help. Caravel has a team of 85 qualified and experienced lawyers, including those specializing in immigration law. Get in touch with our team today to find out more.

The information provided in this article is not intended to be legal advice. Many factors unknown to us may affect the applicability of this content to your particular circumstances.

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