BlogCOVID changes allow ‘visitors’ currently in Canada to apply for work permits

25 August 2020

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Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship announced a new temporary policy on Monday, August 24, 2020 that will allow visitors currently in Canada to apply for employer-specific work permits without having to leave the country. This temporary policy takes effect immediately until further notice and is intended to get visitors with job offers working as soon as possible for the Canadian employers who need them.

Although it is not common knowledge, there are many types of immigration permits that cannot be issued to a person who applies for it while they are inside Canada. Among these are open working holiday permits and even closed, employer-specific work permits if the applicant is in Canada as a visitor. Under normal circumstances, these applicants would be able to apply for work permits while they were inside Canada, but they would only be issued the work permit after leaving Canada and returning to a Canadian port of entry. Alternatively, many applicants choose to ‘flagpole’, which is immigration jargon that refers to a person who crosses the Canada-US border only to turn around immediately to apply for a permit. However, due to COVID this common immigration strategy is no longer viable.

COVID-19 has turned the immigration world on its head. Between the Canada-US border closure, the imposition of travel restrictions on incoming air travelers, and the cancellation of numerous international flights, many visitors have been stranded in Canada and had to unexpectedly extend their stays. Furthermore, many foreign workers have lost their worker status and have had to switch to visitor status.

Over the past few months, as a Vancouver immigration lawyer I have heard many stories from former workers who lost their ability to work because they were expecting to qualify for permanent residence before their work permits expired or were expecting their employers to obtain Labour Market Impact Assessments (“LMIAs”) to get new work permits. However, layoffs and well documented delays in immigration processing have derailed those plans. Regardless of the reasons for their extended stays in Canada, these visitors have found themselves in a dilemma: it is unsafe to travel during a global pandemic and it is uncertain if and when they could return to Canada due to international travel restrictions, but they also cannot remain indefinitely in Canada without the legal right to work.

The Minister’s announcement is a game changer that will allow visitors with qualifying job offers from Canadian employers to apply for work permits without having to leave the country or attempt to flagpole during this uncertain period. This will benefit both workers and employers who are struggling to recover from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

To take advantage of the new temporary public policy, in-Canada applicants must have arrived in Canada before August 24, 2020 and must hold valid visitor status. In addition, they must possess a qualifying job offer, which means that the employer making the job offer must have obtained a LMIA or qualify for an exemption from needing one.

Visitors who previously held work permits within the past 12 months will benefit significantly from the new temporary public policy because they will also be allowed to begin working after submitting their new work permit applications. However, these applicants must write directly to the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to request authorization to work before receiving their permits, and it will take approximately six weeks for that authorization to be granted.

As a Canadian immigration lawyer, it is extremely encouraging to see that the Minister is responding to the challenges of the day and creating new temporary public policies to address them. However, these announcements will only be meaningful if there are sufficient resources available to process these applications in a timely fashion – it will be a small consolation to visitors to be granted the right to apply for work permits while inside Canada if it will take four months or longer to process the applications, which was the standard processing time for work permits even before COVID-19.

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Sas and Ing Immigration Law Centre LLP

A partnership between Catherine Sas Law Corporation and Victor Ing Law Corporation

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About the Author