Canada’s Inland Spousal OWP pilot program reduces financial hardship and isolation for families
Posted on - Jan 28, 2019

By Victor Ing

Victor Ing

At the same time as the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) re-launches its popular Parents and Grandparents Sponsorship program, the fate of another popular program – the Inland Spousal Open Work Permit (“OWP”) pilot program for spouses and common-law partners living in Canada – remains in limbo merely days before it is set to expire on January 31, 2019.

The Inland Spousal OWP pilot program was first implemented in December 2014 and allows spouses and common-law partners to apply for open work permits at the same time they make applications from inside Canada for permanent residence under the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada (“SLCPC”) Class, which is also commonly referred to as an in-land spousal application. Since then, the Inland Spousal OWP pilot program has been extended year after year and was most recently extended until January 31, 2019.

Before the introduction of the Inland Spousal OWP pilot program, spouses and common-law partners with pending SCLPC applications had to wait for “first stage approval” before becoming eligible to apply for an open work permit. First stage approval means that IRCC has reviewed the spousal sponsorship application and determined that the relationship between the Canadian citizen or permanent resident sponsor and foreign spouse or common-law partner is genuine. However, receiving first stage approval does not mean that the application for permanent residence is ready to be approved because IRCC is still required to complete its medical and security checks before issuing a permanent resident visa to the applicant.

The Inland Spousal OWP pilot program became very popular because it reduced the hardship many spouses and common-law partners faced while waiting for first stage approval, which often took a year or more to be granted. From my experience as a Vancouver immigration lawyer working with clients, many spouses and common-law partners found it financially difficult to pay for household expenses with only one income from the sponsor.

Even when finances were not a major concern, the sponsored spouse or common-law partner often found it difficult and isolating to stay at home with no ability to work and feeling that their personal and professional lives were on hold. Some of these spouses or common-law partners might have been previously employed while in Canada but had to stop working because their previous permits, such as working holiday permits, were not renewable.

The Inland Spousal OWP pilot alleviated many of these hardships by allowing spouses to continue working if they had been employed before submitting the SCLPC application or to begin working within a few months after submitting the SCLPC application if they had not worked before. Only applicants with valid status in Canada are eligible to apply for an Inland Spousal OWP. IRCC has since made efforts in the past several years to educate the public that the Inland Spousal OWP pilot program was available to them by creating new SCLPC application checklists and instructions that specifically refer to them.

In past years IRCC has announced its decisions to renew the Inland Spousal OWP pilot program in December, approximately one month before the program was set to expire. What makes this year unusual is that IRCC has remained silent on whether the Inland Spousal OWP pilot program will be back. Given the current situation, it is unclear if and when the program will return, or whether it will be brought back under modified criteria.

With the Inland Spousal OWP pilot program’s pending expiry date of January 31, 2019, spouses and common-law partners living in Canada may benefit from getting advice on alternative pathways to remain in valid temporary immigration status until their SLCPC application can be approved.

It is very important to know that making an SCLPC application does not, on its own, grant any right to the applicant to remain in Canada as a temporary resident.

SCLPC applicants should maintain valid temporary resident status whether as a visitor, student or worker in order to allow them to continue cohabiting with their Canadian spouses or common-law partners.

Victor Ing is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada, and provides a full range of immigration services.

To learn more about immigrating to Canada, becoming a permanent Canadian resident or bringing your family to Canada, email Victor Ing or call him at 1-604-689-5444.

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