Spousal Open Work Permit
Accompanying spouses or common-law partners of full-time international Master’s or PhD students are eligible to apply for an open work permit often known as a Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP).
January 22, 2024 – Announcement
Only the spouses/partners of Master’s and PhD students are eligible for the SOWP. Spouses/partners of undergraduate students are no longer eligible.
If you have a valid study permit and have been admitted into or are enrolled full-time in a Master’s or PhD program, your spouse or common-law partner can apply for a work permit without proof of a job offer or a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA).
Immediate family members of students/graduates applying for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) are eligible to extend their status to match the PGWP.
For your spouse/common-law partner to be able to extend their open work permit based on the validity of your PGWP, you must include proof that you have ‘skilled work’ (jobs in TEER categories 0, 1, 2, or 3 in the National Occupational Classification). Without that, your spouse/common-law partner can only extend their status in Canada as a visitor until you can prove that you have skilled employment.
Temporary policy – January 30, 2023 to January 30, 2025
A Temporary Policy, in place from January 30, 2023 for a period of two years, relaxes the employment requirement from “skilled work” to “all skill levels” and also allows working-aged dependent children to obtain a work permit. For more details consult this IRCC webpage and contact an immigration advisor at the CIE for support.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Estimated processing times give an idea of how long an application could take to be processed. If something outside of your control makes urgent processing important, you can contact IRCC through their web form to ask if it is possible. It may take up to two weeks to get a response. Note: Use the ‘Update or ask about your application’ option and then the ‘Other’ section, as the ‘Ask for urgent processing for your permanent resident card’ section doesn’t include study/work permits.
If you or your spouse or common-law partner already have status in Canada, and have applied from within Canada for new permits, you both can remain in Canada under ‘maintained status’ (formerly known as ‘implied status’) while you wait for an answer.
If your spouse/partner is currently in Canada with visitor status, they can only begin work once their work permit is issued. If it is necessary for them to start earlier than the estimated processing times allow, they may be able to apply for it when entering Canada from the United States.
- Spouses/partners who can enter the United States (US) can do so (from Canada) and complete the process on their return (either at a land border or at the airport where they arrive in Canada).
- Spouses/partners who cannot enter the US can still complete this process at a land border crossing. This process is known by some as ‘flag-poling’.
- IMPORTANT: If your spouse/partner is not eligible to enter the US, they can expect to be denied entry at their border before being able to return to Canada. This is normal and should not have long-term negative consequences as long as they answer ‘yes’ if asked in the future whether they have been denied entry to the US.
- Flag-poling at some border crossings (including the Peace, Queenston-Lewiston, and Rainbow Bridges in the Niagara region – closest to Toronto) is limited to specific days and hours.
- IMPORTANT: Even if your spouse/partner goes during the identified days and times, Border Services Officers may choose not to process an application at the border.
- If planning to flag-pole, it is a good idea for your spouse/partner to try visiting the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) office on the Canadian side before they leave Canada to ask if they can confirm that they have everything necessary for the process and whether the Border Services Officers will be able to help them on their return.
Even if your spouse/partner has an in-Canada application in process, flag-poling requires them to submit a new application upon entry. That means they must have the supporting documentation (see above) and the ability to pay the fees again (noted above). If the work permit is issued, they can cancel the in-Canada application. If IRCC had not yet started processing their in-Canada application, they will get the whole fee refunded. If IRCC had started processing their application, they should get the $100 open work permit fee refunded.
IMPORTANT: If you hope to work in fields that will bring you into close contact with people (ie. health care settings, child care or educational settings, or elder care) or will involve agricultural work, an Immigration Medical Exam must have been completed before applying at the border (preferably at least one month prior). Without the medical exam, your work permit may exclude work in these and similar areas. IRCC provides details about the medical exam requirements.
However you complete the process, you should be prepared to meet Canada’s entry requirements.