New Policy Will Allow Family Class Applicants (Spouses and Common-Law Partners) and Dependent Children to Apply for Open Work Permits

by Ronalee Carey Law

June 2023

As I blogged about in September 2017, in the past, it has been challenging for romantic partners of Canadians to get approved for a visitor visa. Many couples remained separated, sometimes for years, while waiting for the sponsorship applications to be processed. Though adjustments to the ‘dual intent’ policy last fall provided additional guidance to immigration officers, the policy change did not have a measurable impact on the acceptance rates of these applications; over half of the applicants were being denied.

Finally, after years of criticism, the Canadian government is making it easier for the spouses and common-law partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to work in Canada during the processing of their applications for permanent residence. On May 26, 2023, IRCC announced a new open work permit program. The program will apply to all those living in Canada with their spouses/partners who have applied for permanent residency through any of the family sponsorship programs. Previously, Family Class applicants were excluded. Further, dependent children can also now apply, whereas no specific work permit programs were previously available.

There are several conditions to be eligible for the program. First, the applicant must have valid status in Canada or be eligible to restore their status; applicants without status in Canada cannot apply. Secondly, the sponsorship application must be ‘complete’; a letter acknowledging receipt of the application must have been received. Finally, the Dependent children must be an ‘accompanying’ family member; they cannot obtain a work permit if they are sponsored independently.

Work permits are unavailable at the port of entry; applications must be made online after the applicant is in Canada. 

The May 26th announcement also brought other welcome news:

  • Most visitor visa applications for the spouses and partners of Canadians will be processed within 30 days. New processing tools are already in place, with acceptance rates of 93%. (98% was quoted in the news conference, but IRCC’s official announcement differs.)
  • New processing tools will be used to process sponsorship applications, which should speed processing. During the media announcement, IRCC Minister Sean Fraser referred to new artificial technology but insisted that humans are still making the final decision. He pointed to improved acceptance rates as showing that there are no longer discriminatory results in processing applications.
  • Many open work permit holders whose work permits expire between August 1 and December 31, 2023, will be granted 18-month extensions without needing to submit an application or pay processing fees. This program will mirror a similar program available to post-graduate work permit holders. We don’t have full details on who will be eligible yet, but the spouses/partners of work and study permit holders may be included in addition to sponsorship applicants.

Operational instructions have been updated to reflect the new policy. Documentary evidence supporting the application must include proof of relationship, such as a marriage certificate. Though the policy does not list that documents supporting a ‘genuine relationship’ must be included upfront, officers may request it later. To ensure quick processing, applicants may want to include some or all of the documents submitted with the sponsorship application related to cohabitation and genuine relationship.