Occupation Specific Work Permits – a welcoming proposal


Notice to interested parties — Introducing occupation-specific work permits under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Notice is hereby given that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) are seeking written comments from all interested parties on a proposal to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (the Regulations) to introduce authorities for the issuance of occupation-specific work permits under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, on the basis of an assessment provided by ESDC. The intent of this proposal would be to provide greater labour mobility to foreign workers, enabling them to leave their employer for a new one in their occupation who is approved to hire foreign workers, without the requirement to apply for a new work permit.


Under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, employers in Canada wishing to hire a temporary foreign worker must have an approved Labour Market Impact Assessment from ESDC to ensure that the hiring of the foreign worker will not negatively impact the Canadian labour market. Before starting work, the foreign national must obtain an 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.

Currently, foreign workers may change their employer, subject to existing immigration requirements. For example, any subsequent job offer requires an approved Labour Market Impact Assessment, and the foreign worker must apply for and obtain a new 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.

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.

However, as many migrant worker advocacy groups and other stakeholders have noted, the employer-specific work permit can create 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.

For these reasons, a work permit that offers greater worker mobility was recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA Committee) in 2016 and the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in 2009, as well as by many migrant worker support and advocacy organizations in Canada.


The departments are considering amending the Regulations to support the introduction of an occupation-specific work permit in the Primary Agriculture Stream and Low-wage Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. This new work permit would allow a foreign worker to move between jobs in the same occupation (or national occupational classification, NOC) without the requirement for a new permit each time. Every job offer accepted by the foreign worker would require an approved Labour Market Impact Assessment, thereby ensuring the protection of the Canadian labour market. 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.

The occupation-specific work permit would complement the new open work permit for vulnerable workers, which was launched on June 4, 2019. 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 recognize that a number of program design elements would have to be put in place before an occupation-specific work permit could be implemented and are seeking comment from interested parties on the elements outlined below.

Questions to guide input from interested parties

The following key questions may be used to guide comments of interested parties. However, all input is welcome and need not be limited to the responses to these questions.

  • (1) Would an occupation-specific work permit increase the likelihood that foreign workers would seek out better job opportunities within their occupation? What barriers to mobility would persist?
  • An occupation-specific work permit would remove the barrier of having to apply for a new work permit each time a foreign worker accepts a job offer within their occupation. This would save time and effort involved in completing work permit applications, as well as multiple work permit processing fees. However, foreign workers would still be required to obtain a job offer from an employer with an approved Labour Market Impact Assessment, and depending on their situation, may require relocating and finding new accommodations. The departments would be interested in learning what prospective differences this proposed work permit might make to a foreign worker’s decision to change jobs.
  • (2) What positive impacts would this occupation-specific work permit have for temporary foreign workers? What concerns or challenges would it pose, and how could these concerns be mitigated?
  • The departments are interested in learning to what extent interested parties believe the proposed work permit could shift the balance of power between employers and foreign workers and lead to positive impacts for foreign workers, such as improved working conditions or higher wages. The departments are also interested in feedback on the proposed work permit’s possible limitations, challenges, or negative consequences. Commenters may wish to consider how foreign workers’ relationships with their home governments, families, recruiters and/or former employers could play a role in determining the benefits and challenges of the proposed work permit. Commenters may also want to consider how gender identity, race, ethnicity, age and other identity factors would shape foreign workers’ experiences with the new work permit. Suggestions for how to mitigate foreign workers’ concerns or challenges would be welcome.
  • (3) What positive or negative impacts would this work permit have for employers and Canadian and permanent resident workers in Canada?
  • While the primary objective of the work permit is easier job mobility for the foreign worker, there may be broader benefits or negative effects for employers and Canadians. The departments are interested in learning about potential impacts. For example, on balance, would the proposed work permit hinder, help or have little impact on employer efforts to fill vacant positions? To what extent might this work permit lead to improved working conditions or wages for Canadian workers and permanent residents?
  • (4) Should there be a designated time period (e.g. first two months after starting a job contract) when foreign workers are not permitted to change jobs?
  • The departments recognize that employers make significant investments in the process of hiring temporary foreign workers and require a predictable, stable work force to support their operations. In light of this, consideration could be given to preventing foreign workers from entering into new employment contracts with new employers on their occupation-specific work permit until a short window of time has passed (unless they seek a new work permit). Comments on the design and impact of such a period are welcome.
  • (5) Would additional supports be required to help temporary foreign workers find a new employer in Canada with a valid Labour Market Impact Assessment in their occupation? If so, what kind of supports should be considered and who should provide them?
  • In the event that a foreign worker with an occupation-specific work permit seeks to leave an employer, information about which employers have vacant positions with an approved Labour Market Impact Assessment would be required. Similarly, employers would need information about foreign workers with valid work permits in particular occupations to facilitate job matching. Interested parties are invited to comment on the need for such information and suggest mechanisms to deliver this information. Consideration could be given to a government-administered job-matching website (such as Job Bank) or to in-person supports provided by community organizations.
  • (6) With greater mobility of foreign workers, what kind of mechanisms should the departments consider to track foreign workers and their new employers for compliance purposes?
  • Issuing employer-specific work permits on the basis of a specific job offer helps identify the employers for which foreign workers are working. This information helps hold employers accountable through the employer compliance regime for the job offer terms and conditions, including wages, working conditions and location of work. By removing the requirement for a new work permit with each job offer, the occupation-specific work permit creates a need for an additional mechanism to track new employment relationships. Such a mechanism could help foreign workers verify whether their job offer has a valid, approved Labour Market Impact Assessment. It could also help enforce employer compliance.
  • The departments are seeking views on a preferred tracking mechanism and any considerations for its design. Consideration could be given to requiring employers to register the new employment relationship on a website or other online tool.
  • (7) Is there a need to clarify or amend the responsibilities of employers and foreign workers in light of this new work permit?
  • Whether a foreign worker comes directly from abroad or is leaving a job with one employer for another, the responsibilities of the worker and employer to one another will remain the same as they do under the current employer-specific work permit. Nevertheless, the departments invite comment on whether there are any unanticipated implications or areas of ambiguity that could arise concerning, but not limited to, the provision of housing, travel costs, medical insurance, wages, working conditions, or pay deductions.
  • (8) Should additional changes be made to the work permit process to further support foreign worker mobility?
  • In general, under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, foreign workers in low-wage occupations receive a work permit for employment up to one year and seasonal workers for less than a year. Employers generally anticipate foreign workers to remain under their employ for the duration of the work permit period. However, with the proposed occupation-specific work permit, foreign workers could arrive at a new job having already worked for another employer and with only a few months left on their work permit before it expires. For this reason, the departments are seeking comment on how to mitigate the impacts created by these circumstances.
  • (9) Are there particular considerations for specific Temporary Foreign Worker Program Streams that need to be taken into account when designing an occupation-specific work permit?
  • The streams of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, such as the Primary Agriculture Stream, including the Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program or the Low-Wage Stream, have their own set of unique policies and histories, clients, economic conditions, opportunities and challenges. The departments welcome considerations for the occupation-specific work permit that take into account these differences.

Public comment period

Interested persons may submit comments concerning the proposal within 30 days after the date of publication of this notice. All such submissions must cite the Canada Gazette, Part I, the date of publication of this notice, 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: IRCC.TempResRegulations-ResTempReglement.IRCC@cic.gc.ca), and Jordan Thompson, Acting Director, Temporary Resident Policy and Programs, Department of Citizenship and Immigration, 365 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1 (email: IRCC.TempResRegulations-ResTempReglement.IRCC@cic.gc.ca).


Published in the Canada Gazette :