March 20, 2024

IRCC Updates Requirements for Spousal Open Work Permits

Recent updates from Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) shed light on changes to eligibility criteria for Spousal Open Work Permits (SOWP).

Effective January 22, 2024, IRCC announced modifications to Canada's international student program. Notably, spouses of international students enrolled in undergraduate and college programs are now ineligible for SOWPs.

Starting March 19, partners and spouses of international students are eligible for a SOWP only if their sponsor is pursuing a master's or doctoral degree at a university or polytechnic institution in Canada.

There are exceptions for spouses or partners of undergraduate students. Spouses of undergraduate students in specified professional degree programs at a university can still apply for a SOWP. These programs include Dental Surgery, Law, Medicine, Optometry, Pharmacy, Veterinary Medicine, Nursing, Education, and Engineering.

Individuals applying for an SOWP must furnish documents evidencing their relationship to the student and proof of their partner's enrollment in a degree-granting program. Acceptable documents include a valid Letter of Acceptance (LOA) from a Designated Learning Institution (DLI), proof of enrollment letter from the partner's DLI, or transcripts from the ongoing program.

For those who applied before March 19, IRCC maintains eligibility if the partner holds a valid study permit, is eligible for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP), or is a full-time student at certain eligible institutions.

Should spouses or partners find themselves ineligible for an SOWP, they can explore alternative options such as applying for a different work permit or a visitor visa (TRV). However, individuals arriving in Canada as visitors are not authorized to work.

The SOWP enables holders to work for nearly any employer in Canada and aligns with IRCC's mission to facilitate family reunification.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller stated in a comment to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) on February 28 that restricting SOWPs to the partners and spouses of master’s and PhD students was intended to address both volume and integrity concerns, targeting potential exploitation of the program.