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The limits of open work permits

Kathleen Leighton

In Canada, foreign nationals have various options to obtain either “employer-specific” or “open” work permits – we discuss this distinction in greater detail here. Open work permits can be obtained by individuals in different circumstances, including (among others):

  • graduated international students who are eligible to obtain a Post-Graduation Work Permit;
  • individuals applying through International Experience Class (only in some cases);
  • individuals who hold a valid work permit at the time they apply for permanent residency through the Express Entry system and who are eligible for a Bridging Open Work Permit; and
  • spouses and common-law partners of certain skilled workers or international students.

However, it is important to note that the term “open” can be deceiving. While open work permits provide far greater flexibility than employer-specific work permits, they are not free of restrictions. Read more to understand some of the limits of open work permits, and how to overcome occupation restrictions.

Open work permit restrictions

There are various restrictions on all temporary residents, including open work permit holders, as imposed by regulation. These restrictions include, but are not limited to, that temporary residents:

  1. must leave Canada by the end of the period authorized for their stay;
  2. must not work for an employer in a business where there are reasonable grounds to suspect a risk of sexual exploitation of workers – this can include strip club, massage parlours, and escort agency businesses; and
  3. must not study, unless otherwise authorized.

These restrictions will apply whether or not any conditions appear on the work permit itself.

Additionally, foreign nationals who are looking to work in occupations in which the protection of public health is essential will have to submit to a medical exam. Otherwise, the open permit will have occupation restrictions, namely a prohibition from working in:

  1. childcare;
  2. primary and secondary school education; and
  3. health services field occupations.

Note that medical exams can also be required for those who have spent time in certain designated countries, in some circumstances. Otherwise, there can also be restrictions against working in agricultural occupations.

As with the other implied restrictions noted above, these occupation restrictions are applicable even if they are not written on the work permit itself.

Officers also have the ability to impose additional conditions on the work permit, including with respect to the location of work. Therefore, work permit holders should ensure they review the details of their permit for such limits.

Overcoming occupation restrictions

As noted, medical exams are required for individuals to work in childcare, primary and secondary school education, and health services field occupations, even if the temporary resident otherwise holds an open permit.

That said, it is important to note that the medical exam must be completed before the work permit is issued to obtain a permit without these occupation restrictions. If a temporary resident already holds an open work permit, but has not yet completed a medical exam, they must:

  1. complete an “up-front” medical exam with a designated panel physician; and
  2. submit an application to change their work permit conditions.

In other words, the medical exam on its own is not sufficient to obtain authorization to work in these restricted occupations.

Additionally, if the applicant applied for their work permit from abroad and was already issued a Port of Entry Letter of Introduction, but has not yet travelled to Canada and obtained their open work permit, they may:

  1. complete an “upfront” medical exam with a designated panel physician; and
  2. bring their medical Information Sheet confirming completion of the exam to the border services officer when entering Canada.

It is important to keep in mind that medical exam results are not processed and made available in the system for border officers to view right away. There can be a delay, and the officer will need to be able to see the results in the system in order to issue an open permit free of occupation restrictions.

Conclusion

Open work permit holders should be aware that not all applicable restrictions may be listed on the permit itself, and they should seek advice if they need clarification on the limits of their permit.

Similarly, employers should seek advice to ensure any employees who hold open work permits are not restricted from working as contemplated, particularly those in education, childcare, agricultural, and health services entities.

Our immigration group would be pleased to advise on open work permits and assist with change of conditions applications as needed.

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