Spousal Open Work Permit

  • Are you married? Perfect!
  • Or have you lived together as a common law couple for at least 12 months and can prove it? For example common address on rental agreements, utility bills, bank accounts, etc… Also great!
  • Does your partner have a job?
  • Is your partner in Canada with a temporary work permit or study permit? (not a Canadian permanent resident or Canadian citizen)
  • Is your partner’s work permit still valid for at least 6 months?

If you can answer the questions with ‘yes’, then you are eligible to apply for the spousal open work permit. The Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP) is an open work permit that allows the spouse to work in Canada at any job with any employer. 

What can be used as proof of a common-law relationship?

  • shared ownership of residential property
  • joint leases or rental agreements
  • bills for shared utility accounts, such as:
    • gas
    • electricity
    • telephone
    • joint utility accounts
  • important documents for both of you showing the same address, such as:
    • driver’s licenses
    • insurance policies
  • identification documents

What kind of jobs are eligible for this program?

Between January 2023 until January 2025 the requirements for the Spousal Open Work Permit will be relaxed.  
It doesn’t have to be a skilled job, all TEER categories (0-5) are now allowed.

The only exception: farm jobs of all kinds, whether paid or not

Does the job have to be a full time job?

No. It can also be a part time job.

Possible example scenarios in which this type of work permit can be applied for:

  • In the IEC process, only one of the partners is invited from the pool
  • In the IEC process, a partner receives a longer work permit
    • Example: Australia gets 2 years work permit and Germany only gets 1 year. The German partner can apply for the SOWP to get the same length as the Australian work permit. 
  • One of the partners has two citizenships and can participate in the IEC process once again.
  • The citizenship of one partner does not take part in the IEC program.
  • The partner doesn’t meet the age requirement for the IEC program
    • Example: For the Netherlands you must be between 18-30 years (inclusive). A partner who is over 30 years can profit from this SOWP option because there is no age limit for this program. 
  • If the partner studies full time in Canada
  • If the partner comes to Canada with an LMIA work permit

What if the partner changes jobs? Does the Spousal Open Work Permit expire?

No. The partner must be employed by the employer until approval of the SOWP. After that, after the SOWP has been approved and issued, it does not expire if the partner changes jobs.

If I have a work permit under the Working Holiday category, does my spouse also have to meet the age requirement like I had to?

No. There is no age requirement for this work permit. The spousal open work permit (SOWP) is a different kind of work permit that is not connected to the International Experience Canada (IEC) program requirements. Your spouse can be any age when they are applying for this work permit. 

Example - Steps for the partner with the Working Holiday

  1. You travel to Canada and activate the Working Holiday work permit.
  2. Your partner is travelling with you and enters Canada as a tourist. They need an eTA. 
  3. If you have children, they also travel as tourists. They need an eTA. 
  4. You find a job.
  5. Your partner applies for a spousal open work permit with the job offer letter (or employment contract) from your employer. See below for online application steps.
  6. Then your partner receives a work permit that is valid as long as your Working Holiday work permit.

Option 1: Apply online

The partner who needs the spousal open work permit must do all of those steps.

  • Register for the GCKey account >>here<< under “Don’t have an account?”
  • If you still have a GCKey account from another application, you can use the same one.
  • Start the application under the link “Apply to come to Canada” 
  • You do not have a Personal Reference Code. Click the button “Visitor visa, study and/or work permit”
  • Answer all the questions in the questionnaire. 
  • In the questionnaire there is a question about the spouse, you answer that with “yes”. 
  • After you completed the questionnaire the system should show an “Open work permit” as a result.  
  • Click “Continue” and answer additional questions. 
  • The system then generates the Documents overview.
  • Fill out and upload the necessary documents in the Documents Checklist
  • If you are not married: Part of the online application is the form IMM 5409 “Statutory Declaration of Common-Law”. The latest version is available for download in the GCKey account under the document overview. 
  • You can also download it >> here << from the official government website. 
  • If you have trouble downloading the IMM form, check the solutions suggested >> here << you will see one of them will work. 
  • You have to fill out this form and have it signed by a notary. Google a notary office in your city. Some police stations and registries in Canada have a “Commissioner of Oaths” who do the same.
  • Merge all the following documents into a PDF (with PDFMerge) and upload that PDF into the “Client Information” spot:
    • A short explanation that the application is an application under spousal open work permit LMIA exemption code
      • C41 with a job in TEER 0-3
      • C47 with a job in TEER 4-5
    • a copy of the partner’s work permit, which must be valid for at least another 6 months from the date of the application 
    • a letter from the partner’s current employer confirming that they are working there
    • or a copy of the employment contract, with a description of the tasks in the TEER category
    • Proof of common law relationship or marriage certificate translated into English or French 
  • After you uploaded all documents, you will pay the fees in the next step: work permit fee ($155) + open work permit holder fee ($100) 
  • If you have never given biometrics, you will also pay a $85 biometrics fee. This will show in the fees section. 

After the work permit is approved, do I need to activate it?

No, the nice and shiny colourful work permit will be sent to the address provided in the application. 

How long will the spousal open work permit be valid for?

The work permit will have the same expiry as the partner’s main work permit. 

If my partner extends the work permit, can I get an extension too?

No, it will not be an extension, but you can apply for a new spousal open work permit again. 

Option 2: Apply at the port of entry

You can apply either at the immigration office after flying into Canada, or at the USA land border through “flagpoling”. (Flagpoling means you go to the US border, let them know you want to activate a Canadian work permit, then the US border agents will send you back to the Canadian border.) 

If you apply for the spousal open work permit at the port of entry, both partners must be present and you must have all the documents with you.

  • Proof of the 12 months common law partnership or translated marriage certificate
  • a letter from the partner’s current employer confirming that they are working there
  • or a copy of the employment contract, with a description of the tasks in the TEER category
  • Application for the work permit form IMM 1295E >PDF Download< directly from the government homepage.
  • The work permit fees are paid at the port of entry:
    • work permit fee ($155)
    • open work permit holder fee ($100)
  • If you have never given biometrics, you will also pay a $85 biometrics fee and give the biometrics right there at the border.

Take 3 payslips with you as proof that you work at that company

Even though IRCC removed the requirement to provide 3 pay slips, the majority of border officers still request them. So it is best to be prepared and take at least 3 pay slips with the documents. There are border experiences where the SOWP was denied because the partner could not provide the pay slips.

Note, if you are already in Canada with another work permit and want to apply for the spousal open work permit online.

You should apply for the Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP) before the expiry of the existing work permit.

After applying for the Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP), you can profit from the so called maintained status (starting from the expiry of the current work permit). This means you can continue to work until a decision has been made on the SOWP application.
During maintained status, you can only continue to work under the same conditions as with your expired work permit.

  • If you’re in Canada on a Working Holiday work permit (open work permit), you’re allowed to work for other employers.
  • If you are in Canada with a closed work permit that is tied to one employer, you are not allowed to change employers. Only after Spousal Open Work Permit is granted and mailed to you.

If you apply for the Spousal Open Work Permit after the existing work permit has already expired, there is no maintained status and you have to wait until you have received the Spousal Open Work Permit before you can start working again.

Can I leave Canada while I wait for the decision on my spousal open work permit?

Yes, you can only leave Canada and come back as long as you still have an active work permit.

But if you are in maintained status, you should not leave Canada, because you are going to loose the maintained status. You can no longer enter to continue working!  At the border, you will be treated and questioned like any other tourist upon entry. I emphasize: You are then only allowed to enter as a tourist, you are no longer allowed to work and have to wait until the Spousal Open Work Permit is approved. It is at the discretion of the border officials whether they let you back into Canada as a tourist. 

Tip on how you can double your stay in Canada

Let’s use Susan and Michael from Australia to show it in an example.

  • Susan applies for and activates the 2 year Working Holiday work permit
  • Michael enters as a visitor first 
  • After Susan found a job, Michael applies for a spousal open work permit that will have the same expiry as Susan’s work permit.
  • About one year into the work permits, Michael applies for the Working Holiday
  • Then Susan can use the spousal open work permit.
  • Bang! 4 years of stay in Canada. This is enough time to go the permanent residency pathway.

Do I also need health insurance for the Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP)?

No, health insurance is not mandatory for the SOWP. However, it is recommended to have one because medical expenses in Canada are enormously high. And if you apply at the border, the immigration officers could ask for proof of insurance and refuse the spousal open work permit if you cannot show this proof. 

>> Here are the insurance options << that have been recommended a lot by other travellers. If you are already in Canada, you need an already travelling policy, which you can also sign up outside of your home country. Not many insurers allow this.

Important additional information

  • If the partner who wants to enter as a visitor first, is not from a visa-free country, they must apply for the tourist visa from home at the embassy if they are a citizen of these “visa-required” countries >here<. Processing of a visitor visa can take many months, so this must be taken into consideration when planning the move to Canada. 
  • The Spousal Open Work Permit is an open work permit and you can work anywhere in Canada and for who you want. The only restriction:
    • Sex industry is prohibited
    • For work in health care, elderly care or with children you need a medical exam. Find out more >> here <<

Where can I find the official information about the Spousal Open Work Permit?

Does the partner also get a Spousal Open Work Permit if one is a student?

Yes, the following requirements:

  • You have a study permit
  • You have to study full-time
  • You have to study at a “designated learning institution” (list >here <)
  • You must study in a course of study that is eligible for a post-graduation work permit

Official link: LMIA exemption code C42

Only spouses or common law partners of study permit holders studying at PGWP-eligible institutions and in PGWP-eligible programs are eligible for an open work permit.

Family members of study permit holders studying at non PGWP-eligible institutions or in non PGWP-eligible programs are not eligible for an open work permit under this category.