Greenhouse Canada

Changes proposed to foreign work permits

July 2, 2019  By Greenhouse Canada

The federal government is proposing changes that may help introduce occupation-specific work permits in the Primary Agriculture and Low-wage streams of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) say the intent of this proposal is to provide greater labour mobility to foreign workers, allowing them to leave their employer for another one in the same occupation (or national occupational classification, NOC), without needing to apply for a new work permit each time.

The mobility offered by this type of work permit could help workers leave an abusive workplace and potentially promote more competitive working conditions for foreign and domestic workers, according to the Gazette notice. However, every job offer accepted by the foreign worker would still require an approved Labour Market Impact Assessment, to ensure protection of the Canadian labour market.


Under the current regulations, the foreign national must apply for and obtain a new employer-specific work permit from IRCC. This type of permit restricts the foreign national’s ability to work for any employer other than the one specified on the work permit. Given the time, effort, cost and other challenges associated with finding a new job and securing a new work permit, few foreign workers change employers, despite having the option of doing so.

As the Gazette notice explains, the employer-specific work permit plays a role in maintaining the integrity of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Through the Labour Market Impact Assessment, each job offer, with a specified occupation, location and employer, is assessed for the impact (positive, neutral or negative) on the labour market in Canada that may result when hiring a temporary foreign worker to fill that position. Restricting foreign workers to specified positions and employers for which there has been an assessment thus protects the Canadian labour market. It also provides protection to the foreign worker, given that employers of foreign workers with employer-specific worker permits are held accountable by the Government’s employer compliance regime. This regime, which includes employer inspections, assesses employers’ compliance with the commitments to provide certain wage and working conditions.

Migrant worker advocacy groups and other stakeholders have noted that the employer-specific permit creates a power imbalance favouring the employer and conditions for potential worker abuse. Foreign workers may be more likely to stay in a job that no longer benefits them, or in some cases, where they experience abuse or exploitation.

The proposed occupation-specific work permit would complement the new open work permit for vulnerable workers, which was launched last month. The open work permit for vulnerable workers is available to any foreign worker in Canada with a valid employer-specific work permit who is experiencing abuse, or is at risk of abuse, in the context of their employment in Canada. It is designed to provide a pathway for foreign workers to leave abusive situations and find new employment in any occupation. In contrast, the occupation-specific work permit would be issued only to foreign workers in the Primary Agriculture Stream and Low-Wage Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, offering greater ease of mobility within the same occupation, without the need to apply for a special permit.

The departments are seeking comment from interested parties, particularly with regards to mobility barriers, support services needed, and possible challenges and impacts to employees and employers until July 21, 2019.

To submit comments, cite Canada Gazette, Part I, the date of publication of the Gazette notice (June 22), and be addressed to Uttara Chauhan, Director, Policy and Program Design, Temporary Foreign Workers Program, Employment and Social Development Canada, 140 Promenade du Portage, Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0J9 (email:, and Jordan Thompson, Acting Director, Temporary Resident Policy and Programs, Department of Citizenship and Immigration, 365 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1 (email:

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