In a landmark announcement, Sean Fraser has announced that Canada will seek to keep families of some Work Permit holders together.

Immigration minister Sean Fraser announced on Dec 2nd, 2022 that Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will expand the eligibility of Open Work Permits (OWP) to the spouses and working-age children of some current Work Permit holders under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

What are Work Permits, and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program?

Work permits allow foreign nationals (i.e.: individuals who are neither citizens nor permanent residents of Canada) to work in Canada. One pathway by which foreign nationals can receive a work permit is through the TFWP; wherein Canadian employers apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to hire foreign talent.

These work permits are issued for a specific job with a specific employer. If a foreign national loses their job under an LMIA-based work permit, they must either find another job within a certain amount of time, or leave Canada. OWPs on the other hand allow foreign nationals to legally work in Canada for any employer and in any job, without the same conditions.


New changes to OWP eligibility

The expansion of eligibility of OWPs to families (spouses and working-age children) of some closed Work Permits holders is a huge step towards enticing more immigrants to work, and potentially even settle, in Canada. Spouses of international students, and Canadian permanent residents and citizens had already been afforded the ability to be sponsored by their spouse for an OWP; however, the eligibility expansion, for spouses of current Work Permit holders under the TFWP is telling of Canada’s willingness to receive more newcomers.

IRCC is expecting more than 200,000 new work permit applications from families of existing work permit holders as a result of this policy change.

The program is expected to be implemented at the start of 2023, as a temporary two-year measure in three phases:

  • Phase 1: High-wage stream—For spouses of higher paid workers in the TFWP who hold a work permit;
  • Phase 2: Provinces and territories stream—For spouses of lower wage workers  within the TFWP; and
  • Phase 3: Families of agriculture workers—This phase would specifically deal with families of seasonal agriculture workers, a key stream of employment that Canada is trying to expand as part of its economic recovery.

Though IRCC is keen to implement these changes to aid economic recovery, these dates remain tentative. As Minister Fraser reports, much of phase two and three will still need to be developed in collaboration with provinces and employers.


Why does Canada need more people?

Canada has long recognized the importance of immigration for the financial, demographic, and societal health of the country; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has hurried the need for newcomers.

As the country continues to face record high job vacancies, in the presence of low levels of unemployment, and a constant stream of retirees, immigration has become a key focus for economic health and recovery in the wake of a pandemic-affected 2020 and 2021.

As Minister Fraser noted in his December 2nd announcement, ten years ago there were roughly seven Canadian workers for every retiree leaving the workforce. Today there are closer to three workers for every retiree; and given the current trajectory this number is likely to fall to two, in the next 10-15 years. If these numbers do not rise, Canada will not have necessary skilled labour to maintain its most vital industries like healthcare and education; much less its economic growth or health.

Policy adjustments like the one above will be crucial steps, to ensure that continued health of Canadian society. IRCC has already committed (through the Immigration Levels Plan 2023-2025) to welcoming over 1.45 million new immigrants by the end of 2025.