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Navi Mental Health Wayfinder

Spousal Open Work Permit

Accompanying spouses or common-law partners of full-time international students are eligible to apply for an open work permit often known as a Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP).   

If you have a valid study permit and have been admitted to, or are enrolled full-time in a program of study that is eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), 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). 
When to apply

Many students and their spouses/common-law partners will choose to apply together (for a Study Permit and Spousal Open Work Permit) before travelling to Canada. In this case, if the applications are approved, the study and work permits will be issued upon arrival in Canada and the spouse can begin working right away. 

Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) -exempt foreign nationals can apply for the Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP) when arriving in Canada. If approved, it will be issued immediately. 

Some spouses/common-law partners will enter Canada as visitors and apply for the work permit later. In this case, the application can be made at any time (but it is important to ensure their visitor status is still valid when they apply). The work permit can only begin being used once it is received.  

IRCC provides estimated processing times for applications made either before or after entering Canada. 

Standard required documents
  • IF APPLYING BEFORE ENTERING CANADA – Application for a Work Permit made outside Canada (IMM1295)  
  • IF APPLYING AFTER ENTERING CANADA – Application to Change Conditions, Extend my Stay or Remain in Canada as a Worker (IMM5710)  
    • Look for the title at the top of the application, or the code at the bottom-left corner of each page.  
  • IF APPLYING BEFORE THE START OF STUDIES – Letter of Acceptance to degree program (for the student) 
  • IF APPLYING AFTER THE START OF STUDIES – Confirmation of enrollment (for the student) 
  • Proof of relationship 
    • Marriage certificate; or, 
    • Declaration of Common-Law Union (IMM5409) 
  • Copies of pages from your passport or travel document 
    • Including the biographical data page and all pages with visas, stamps or markings (the passport should be valid for at least 6 months beyond the expected date of arrival to Canada).   
    • If your spouse or common-law partner has a new passport, they can provide copies from both their new and old passports, but put the new passport first, and mark it as ‘New Passport’ if possible.  
  • Passport-style photograph 

Your spouse or common-law partner may need other documents, including, but not limited to:  

  • Biometrics (digital fingerprints and photographs)  
  • Immigration medical exam results (see section below)

tip

If applying for the work permit separately from your spouse/partner’s study permit, you may not be asked for proof of funds to support yourself, but it is a good idea to provide proof anyway. This, and other documentation that is not specifically requested, can be provided in the Client Information field of the Optional Documents section. 

How to apply

Applications made before or after entering Canada are made online.  

IF APPLYING BEFORE ENTERING CANADA – Review IRCC’s instruction guide for a work permit application submitted outside Canada.

IF APPLYING AFTER ENTERING CANADA – Review IRCC’s instruction guide for a work permit application submitted inside Canada.

Applications made upon arrival in Canada are submitted in person. See details about this possibility in the FAQs below. 

Medical examination

If your spouse/common-law partner is planning to work with children, or patients in the health services field, they must have an immigration medical exam. They will also require one if they have been in a ‘designated’ country for at least 6 of the past 12 months. 

IRCC provides details about who requires immigration medical exams, who can offer them, and more. 

If your spouse/common-law partner requires one, they can book the appointment before submitting their application, or they can do so once requested by IRCC. It is usually a good idea to do so in advance. 

If your spouse/common-law partner had an immigration medical exam within the 12 months prior to applying for their work permit, they should include proof (i.e. a copy of their medical receipt). Failure to do so may result in processing delays or the rejection of their application. 

After submitting your application

If your spouse/common-law partner is required to provide biometrics, they’ll get a Biometric Instruction Letter after submitting their application and paying the $85 CAD biometric collection fee. The letter can be used to book a biometric appointment at any Visa Application Centre (VAC) or Application Support Centre (ASC). If they apply within Canada, they are exempt from the biometric requirement. 

Immigration officers may ask you or your spouse/common-law partner for additional documentation to make a decision about their application. 

If your spouse/common-law partner needs to notify IRCC about a change, or ask about the status of their application, they can use IRCC’s web form.

If your spouse/common-law partner’s Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP) is approved 

IRCC will notify them through their IRCC account that the application was approved.  

If the application was submitted outside Canada, IRCC will request their passport if they require a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV), or they will associate an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) with your spouse/common-law partner’s passport. The SOWP will be issued when they arrive in Canada. 

If the application was submitted inside Canada, the SOWP will be mailed to the Canadian mailing address provided in the application. This process could take as long as 6 weeks. 

If the application is submitted at the border, the SOWP will be issued immediately. 

Once your spouse/common-law partner receives their Spousal Open Work Permit, they should remember to apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN)

Immediate family members of students/graduates applying for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) are eligible to extend their status to match the PGWP. 

If your spouse/common-law partner would like an open work permit for the validity of your PGWP, you must be able to prove that you have ‘skilled work’ (jobs in categories 0, A, or B 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 your skilled employment. 

Visit IRCC’s website for more information about work permit eligibility for spouses/partners of skilled workers.

When to apply

You can apply for an extension of your spouse/common-law partner’s stay in Canada at the same time as you apply for your PGWP or they can apply separately (but before their existing status expires). Make sure you include all appropriate documentation and the required fee for each person in the application. 

A spouse/common-law partner of someone with/applying for a PGWP only qualifies for the Spousal Open Work Permit if the graduate already has an offer for or has started ‘skilled work’ (jobs in categories 0, A, or B in the National Occupational Classification). In this case you may choose to apply together with your spouse/common-law partner (for a Post-Graduation Work Permit and Spousal Open Work Permit) and, if the applications are approved, the Post-Graduation and Spousal Open Work Permits will be issued together. 

  • If your spouse/common-law partner already has a work permit, they can continue working until a decision is made. If their work permit is approved, they can continue working without interruption. 

A spouse/common-law partner of someone with/applying for a PGWP that has not yet received an offer for or started ‘skilled work’ (jobs in categories 0, A, or B in the National Occupational Classification) is not eligible to apply for a Spousal Open Work Permit. If their existing permit is nearing expiry, they can apply to extend their status as a visitor.

  • If your spouse or common-law partner already has a work permit, they can continue working only until that permit expires

Once you have ‘skilled work’, your spouse/common-law partner can then apply for a Spousal Open Work Permit. 

If your spouse/common-law partner is currently in Canada on visitor status (i.e. does not have a work permit), they can only begin working once their work permit is issued. 

IRCC provides estimated processing times for applications made either before or after entering Canada. 

Standard required documents
  • IF APPLYING FROM WITHIN CANADA – Application to Change Conditions, Extend my Stay or Remain in Canada as a Worker (IMM5710)  
  • IF APPLYING FROM OUTSIDE CANADA – Application for a Work Permit made outside Canada (IMM1295)  
    • Look for the title at the top of the application, or the code at the bottom-left corner of each page.  
  • Proof of graduate’s skilled employment (jobs in categories 0, A, or B in the National Occupational Classification
    • Job offer or employment letter detailing job title and responsibilities (to confirm it is considered ‘skilled work’) 
  • Proof of relationship 
    • Marriage certificate; or, 
    • Declaration of Common-Law Union (IMM5409) 
  • Copies of pages from your passport or travel document 
    • Including the biographical data page and all pages with visas, stamps or markings (the passport should be valid for at least 6 months beyond the expected date of arrival to Canada).   
    • If your spouse/common-law partner has a new passport, they can provide copies from both their new and old passports, but put the new passport first, and mark it as ‘New Passport’ if possible.  
  • Passport-style photograph 

Your spouse or common-law partner may need other documents, including, but not limited to:  

  • Biometrics (digital fingerprints and photographs)  
  • Immigration medical exam results (see section below)
How to apply

Applications made within or outside Canada are made online.  

IF APPLYING FROM WITHIN CANADA – Review IRCC’s instruction guide for a work permit application submitted inside Canada. 

IF APPLYING FROM OUTSIDE CANADA – Review IRCC’s instruction guide for a work permit application submitted outside Canada. 

Applications made upon arrival in Canada are submitted in person. See details about this possibility in the FAQs below. 

tip

Any documents that do not have a specific section to be uploaded in the online application can be combined and uploaded in the “Client Information” field of the Optional Documents section. 

Medical examination

If your spouse or common-law partner is planning to work with children, or patients in the health services field, they must have an immigration medical exam. they will also require one if they have been in a ‘designated’ country for at least 6 of the past 12 months. 

IRCC provides details about who requires immigration medical exams, who can offer them, and more. 

If your spouse or common-law partner requires one, they can book the appointment before submitting their application, or they can do so once requested by IRCC. It is usually a good idea to do so in advance. 

If they had an immigration medical exam within the 12 months prior to applying for their work permit, they should include proof (i.e. a copy of their medical receipt) with their application. Failure to do so may result in processing delays or the rejection of their application. 

After submitting your application

If your spouse or common-law partner is required to provide biometrics, they’ll get a Biometric Instruction Letter after submitting their application and paying the $85 CAD biometric collection fee. The letter can be used to book a biometric appointment at any Visa Application Centre (VAC)or Application Support Centre (ASC). If they apply within Canada, they are currently exempt from the biometric requirement. 

Immigration officers may ask you or your spouse or common-law partner for additional documentation to make a decision about their application. 

If you or your spouse or common-law partner need to notify IRCC about a change, or ask about the status of their application, you can use their web form

If your spouse/common-law partner’s Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP) is approved 

IRCC will notify you through your IRCC account that the application was approved.  

If the application was submitted outside Canada, IRCC will request your spouse or common-law partner’s passport if they require a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV), or they will associate an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) with their passport. The SOWP will be issued when your spouse or common-law partner arrives in Canada. 

If the application was submitted inside Canada, the SOWP will be mailed to the Canadian mailing address provided in the application. This process could take as long as 6 weeks. 

If the application is submitted at the border, the SOWP will be issued immediately. 

Once your spouse or common-law partner receives their Spousal Open Work Permit, they must remember to apply for a new or extended Social Insurance Number (SIN).  

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FAQ

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 (opens in a new tab) 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 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’. 
  • Flag-poling at some border crossings (including the Peace Bridge, Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, and Rainbow Bridge in the Niagara region – closest to Toronto) is limited to specific days and hours. 
  • Even if they go during the identified days and times, Border Services Officers may choose not to process an application at the border. 
  • If flag-poling, 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. 

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.

 

Check out our Resources page for more support.