Work Permits

Citizenship and Immigration Canada Work Permits

Canadian public policy supports the international movement of workers and Canada’s immigration laws set out various mechanisms for individuals to apply for temporary work permits.

Normally, before a foreigner is allowed to work in Canada, the Canadian company offering the position must first obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) from ESDC (Employment and Social Development Canada). The LMIA, as it is commonly referred to, is a type of labour certification that confirms that the employment will not adversely affect the Canadian labour market, i.e. deprive a Canadian permanent resident or citizen from work they could have obtained.

However, Canadian immigration laws contain exceptions that allow prospective employees to apply directly to Citizenship and Immigration Canada for a work permit, by-passing the employer’s need to obtain a Labour Market Opinion. These exceptions are framed by international agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (the “NAFTA”) and the General Agreement of Trade in Services (the “GATS”) or are driven by public policy considerations.


International agreements such as the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) is designed to stimulate trade between Canada, the United States and Mexico by abolishing trade barriers and tariffs.

NAFTA’s function:

NAFTA facilitates temporary entry for business persons who are citizens of the United States, Mexico and Canada and who are involved in the trade of goods or services, or in investment Activities;

There are four principal categories for business persons under NAFTA:

  • business visitors;
  • professionals;
  • intra-company transferees;
  • traders and investors.

With regard to Professionals, Appendix 1603.D.1 of NAFTA lists the occupations covered by the Agreement. Individuals who meet the work experience and educational requirements under the list may apply for a work permit without the need for an LMO. Click here to view the complete list of Professional Occupations.

Intra-company transferees are employed by an American or Mexican enterprise in a managerial or executive capacity, or in one which involves specialized knowledge, and are being transferred to the Canadian enterprise, parent, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate, to provide services in the same capacity.

Traders and investors carry on substantial trade in goods or services between the United States or Mexico and Canada or have committed, or are in the process of committing, a substantial amount of capital in Canada. Traders and Investors must be employed in a supervisory or executive capacity or one that involves essential skills.

Public Policy Considerations

In addition to negotiated international agreements, individuals can obtain a work permit directly from Citizenship and Immigration Canada without the need for an LMIA, based on the following public policy considerations:

  • Significant Benefits to Canada (includes intra-company transferees not covered by NAFTA, entrepreneurs, and emergency repairs);
  • Competitiveness and Public Policy (includes work permits for spouses of foreign workers or students, post-doctorate fellowships, post-graduate work permits, off-campus employment and charitable or religious work)
  • Reciprocal Employment (includes youth exchange programs and exchange professors and visiting lecturers).

The above categories are non-exhaustive and are only meant to provide a snapshot of the often complex Canadian work permit regime. When deciding on work permit options, many considerations come into play, such as the intended start dates and other time restrictions, amount of remuneration, duration of employment, number of intended foreign workers and long term plans. These and other factors are taken into account when determining a proper work permit strategy for an individual or corporation.

Click on the links on the right hand column learn more about temporary visas.