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Ask Tito Mike by Michael Scott  

Changes in the Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP)

by Michael Scott

For years we have been counselling Canadian sponsors on the advantages and disadvantages of sponsoring spouses or partners from inside Canada. One of the major advantages is that you can submit an open permit application for the spouse/partner when you submit the sponsorship application from inside Canada. A spousal work permit allows your partner/spouse to work in Canada while awaiting the decision on the sponsorship submission. It is a way to normalize life for couples when they are both inside Canada. This year, Canada is expecting to welcome 82,000 new permanent residents under spousal partner and children sponsorship programs. It can take over a year for the processing of the sponsorship submission, but your spouse or partner will be able to obtain the Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP) in considerably less time. The open work permit option is a plus for couples inside the country.

Potential applicants do not need to find an eligible employer with an approved Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). You do not even require a job offer to apply under the provision. The requirement, however, is that the submission is made in concert with an in-Canada spousal or common-law partner sponsorship submission or can be submitted when or if the in-Canada principal applicant has a work permit or study permit.

The foreign spouses inside the country must have valid temporary resident status as a visitor, student, or worker. The applicant and sponsor must meet all eligibility and admission requirements at time of submission. This also applies to spouses/partners of post graduate work permit (PGWP) holders. The SOWP is a positive step but only for those in status.

In the short term, the SOWP allows your partner to enter the Canadian work permit and obtain valuable experience. The open work permit also serves the second purpose of giving your partner status inside the country. It takes the place of the visitor visa, for example, that many of the visiting partners may have. In addition, it allows couples to live together while they await the decision on their sponsorship submission. These are all advantages in terms of couples adjusting to living together in Canada and unifying families. Working in Canada gives the foreign partner a chance to improve their English or French language skills, gain practical experience and establish professional and social networks.

The length of the SOWP depends upon many factors. It is important to be aware that applicants must always be in status so ensure that you apply for extension when and where you can. The processing of your permanent residence may take longer than you expect. It is important for first-time applicants to ensure that they have renewed their passports, otherwise they may be in for a bad surprise when the permit returns with the expiration date on the old or existing passport. The applicants should be aware that normally there is no extension on the PGWP, so take the time out to understand your options. We aware of expiration dates and the changing requirements for SOWP.

One recent change concerns spouses and partners of foreign workers who apply for open work permits. As of January 2023, most foreign workers can apply for an Open Work Permit regardless if the principal applicant is working in a skilled occupation TEER 0, 1, 2 or 3 or a semi-skilled occupation or TEER 4 or 5. This represents a major change and loosening of requirements. You may be eligible for this temporary measure, which applies to both spouses and partners inside and outside of Canada. You must be included as a dependent in the principal applicant’s permanent residence application before you submit your open work permit application.

Michael Scott is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC, R525678) who has 30 years of experience with Immigration Canada and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program. He currently works as a licensed consultant with Immigration Connexion International Ltd. Contact him at 204-691-1166 or 204-227-0292. E-mail: