Work permit: COVID-19 program delivery

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by IRCC staff. It is posted on the department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.


Foreign nationals who are required to undergo a medical examination may be unable to arrive in Canada before the expiry date of their medical examination. Until a change request can be implemented to modify the letter of introduction to include the medical examination validity date, officers may use the port of entry facilitation letter. The letter can be modified to include instructions that the client must enter Canada before the expiry of their medical examination.

To respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada has issued a series of Orders in Council. The following 3 Orders in Council have a direct impact on foreign workers:

For more information and updates on the Orders, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website, which includes a list of COVID-19 Emergency Orders in Council in effect.

All travellers, including temporary workers, will have to undergo health checks and must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Canada unless otherwise exempted under the Mandatory Isolation Order. Travellers are expected to have plans in place for where they will stay and who will provide them with groceries, medication, and so on for the 14 days.

Note: Under COVID-19 restrictions, there are different assessments made of people travelling to Canada. For example, they are assessed against the travel restrictions before they are allowed to board the aircraft, and they are assessed for whether their purpose of travel is non-discretionary at the port of entry. Travellers are also required to meet the mandatory isolation requirements.

Foreign nationals entering from countries other than the United States will not be able to apply for a work permit at the POE pursuant to subsection 198(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR), since they are required to present proof to the air carrier that they have either a valid work permit or a letter of introduction, unless they are exempt from the travel restrictions under a different category such as being an immediate family member of a Canadian citizen.

Certain foreign nationals entering from the United States may be allowed to apply for a work permit upon entry [R198(1)] if they meet the requirements under the Order in Council on Prohibition of Entry into Canada from the United States. See Border restrictions for updates.

Provinces and territories may have additional travel restrictions; applicants must verify with their employer or provincial or territorial authority before making travel arrangements.

For applicants who are outside Canada, a daily report is being pulled for all approved applications and a push notification letter is being sent by the Client Experience Branch advising applicants of the required documentation to present to the air carrier and the 14-day quarantine instructions.

On this page

Temporary workers who are exempt from travel restrictions

The following foreign nationals who require a work permit and are currently outside Canada are not subject to Canada’s travel restrictions if travelling to Canada for a non-optional or non-discretionary purpose:

  1. Foreign nationals who hold a valid Canadian work permit for a specific employer or foreign nationals who hold a valid open work permit and whose travel is for a non-discretionary purpose.

    Proof of travel restriction exemption: A valid work permit (photocopies should not be accepted). In addition, open work permit holders should carry a recent job offer from their employer to prove that their travel is non-discretionary.

  2. Foreign nationals who received a positive decision from IRCC (documented by a letter of introduction) on a work permit application but whose work permit has not yet been issued. The foreign national’s purpose of travel must not be discretionary or optional. Consult Determining whether entry of temporary workers will be for a discretionary or optional purpose.

    Proof of travel restriction exemption: A paper copy or e-version of the letter of introduction.

Work permit-exempt foreign nationals (only temporary resident visa or electronic travel authorization required) seeking to work in essential occupations

There are specific foreign nationals who are work permit exempt who are also exempt from the travel restrictions. These foreign nationals must follow the instructions found in Temporary resident visas (TRVs) or Electronic travel authorization (eTA) when they apply.

Offices should prioritize the processing of the following TRV- or eTA-required but work permit-exempt foreign nationals, identified as essential for health, safety and food security reasons, or to support critical infrastructure, who are not subject to the travel restrictions. They may be exempt from the mandatory 14-day quarantine period if they are described in the Order in Council on Mandatory Isolation:

The CPHO has determined that the following classes of persons are providing an essential service while in Canada and are exempt from the Order on Prohibition of Entry into Canada from any Country other than the United States. In addition, the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for asymptomatic people does not apply to those who meet this exemption criteria.

See List of Acts and Regulations for the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada on the Orders in Council and exemptions. Foreign nationals who are work permit exempt under section R186 but are not specifically exempt from the travel restrictions under the Order in Council are not allowed to travel to Canada at this time from a country other than the United States, unless they hold a national interest exemption letter.

Work permit-exempt foreign nationals must still undergo their immigration medical examination, if required. Immigration medical examination requirements cannot be waived. For information on medical examination requirements, consult Who must submit to an immigration medical exam.

Proof of travel restriction exemption

At the point of boarding, foreign nationals can self-identify to airlines that they are exempt from the travel restriction by presenting alternative documentation to show how they meet the criteria. This should generally include

Those who are work permit exempt are required to satisfy the airline that they are exempt from the travel restrictions. Other acceptable documents may include letters of invitation and letters confirming recognition of credentials.

Determining whether entry of temporary workers will be for a discretionary or optional purpose

A foreign national’s entry may be prohibited if it is for an optional or discretionary purpose, even if they are exempt from the travel restrictions.

The emergency orders under the Quarantine Act do not allow people to travel to Canada for optional or discretionary reasons, such as for tourism, recreation or entertainment.

General rules

Example scenarios

The following are scenarios regarding foreign nationals who hold a valid work permit or received a letter of introduction from IRCC on their work permit application and are seeking entry at a Canadian POE.

Non-optional or non-discretionary travel for a temporary worker may include

Optional or discretionary travel for a temporary worker may include

Accompanying family members of foreign workers

Dependants travelling from the United States (U.S.) do not need a family reunification letter (FRL) from IRCC to reunite with an immediate family member who is in Canada temporarily. However, they must provide evidence that the purpose of their travel is non-discretionary, such as to establish themselves with the spouse, common-law partner or family member.

The Minimizing the Risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in Canada Order (Prohibition of Entry into Canada from any Country other than the United States) (the Order) restricts entry into Canada of foreign nationals arriving from countries other than the United States, with some limited exemptions. Under the Order, travellers must meet all of the following 4 requirements in order to enter Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. They must qualify for an exemption as 1 of the 25 classes of persons in subsection 3(1) of the Order.
  2. They must be asymptomatic for COVID-19.
  3. Their travel must not be optional or discretionary.
  4. They must be able to comply with the requirement to quarantine unless they are exempted based on their purpose of travel and intended length of stay.

Exemptions for family members

The Order exempts immediate family members of Canadians, permanent residents, and persons registered as an Indian under the Indian Act from the travel restrictions, but it does not explicitly exempt spouses or common-law partners and dependent children of foreign workers from the travel restrictions. Therefore, in order to enter Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, family members of foreign workers (spouses, common-law partners and dependent children) must meet both of the following criteria:

  1. be specifically exempt from the travel restrictions under the Order in their own right (for example, hold a work permit as per paragraph 3(1)(l) of the Order or work permit approval letter as per paragraph 3(1)(m) of the Order). If they are not otherwise exempt, they need to obtain a written authorization—an FRL—to enter Canada under the following exemption of the Order:
    • 3(1)(b) a person who is authorized, in writing, by an officer designated under subsection 6(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to enter Canada for the purpose of reuniting immediate family members;
  2. be entering for a non-discretionary reason. There are separate program delivery instructions that explain what constitutes non-discretionary travel for holders of work permits and work permit approval letters. For those seeking to qualify under the family reunification exemption, the non-discretionary reason will be examined by an IRCC officer when they assess if an FRL can be issued, by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers at boarding, if available, and by border services officers upon entry at the port of entry (POE).

Assessing eligibility

When assessing whether a foreign national is eligible for an FRL, IRCC officers should assess whether the purpose of travel to Canada is non-discretionary, in order to avoid cases of foreign nationals being issued an FRL from IRCC only to be turned away at the POE because border services officers find their travel to be non-discretionary.

For family members of temporary residents, non-discretionary travel generally means that they are seeking to reunite with their family member in Canada, and that their length of stay carries some sort of permanency (for example, their spouse is here for 1 year and they are entering to resettle with them for that period).

Foreign nationals seeking to enter under the family reunification provisions must be entering for the purposes of reuniting with family. If they are seeking to enter for work or to study, there are separate provisions covering that.

Note: IRCC officers must not issue an FRL when dependants indicate they are travelling to visit primary foreign workers for more than 15 days. The 15-day rule only applies to immediate family members or extended family members of Canadian citizens, permanent residents or persons registered as Indians under the Indian Act. When an FRL is issued, the non-discretionary test applies and travellers would only be allowed to travel if they are coming to establish themselves in Canada with the work permit holder; visits are not allowed.

For additional guidance on interpreting non-optional and non-discretionary travel and processing requests from immediate family members, please consult:

Information on how to request an FRL is available on the IRCC website:

Note: Normally an immediate family member of a foreign national travelling to Canada from any country other than the U.S. should be in possession of an FRL and not a national interest exemption letter. If the immediate family member is in possession of a national interest exemption letter, an FRL is not required


When officers process applications for dependants, all family members should be processed together at the same time and in the same group for efficiency and for client service reasons. Immediate family members, whether they are accompanied by the principal applicant during travel or they are travelling to join the principal applicant in Canada, can be considered on a case-by-case basis under the family reunification exemption, paragraph 3(1)(b) of the Order.

IRCC officers are required to enter detailed notes in GCMS as to the reasons for authorization in all cases.

Dependent children

Dependent children of travel restriction-exempt foreign workers who are travelling from a country other than the U.S. and who do not meet any exemptions under the Order require an FRL from IRCC in order to travel to Canada.

Refer to documentation requirements provided in How to unite with immediate family members who are in Canada temporarily.

Consult Study permit: COVID-19 program delivery.

Dependant assessments

Prior to making any travel arrangements, dependants of travel restriction-exempt foreign workers can assess themselves to see if they are subject to travel restrictions and if their travel is discretionary by responding to the following questions:

Border services officers will use a similar set of questions to assess if the dependants of travel restriction-exempt foreign workers will be authorized to enter Canada. The dependants still need to meet the requirements under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations to be admissible to Canada.

Even if dependants are issued an FRL, border services officers will still apply the non-discretionary purpose of travel test. Border services officers must be satisfied that the foreign national’s travel is not optional or discretionary.

International Experience Canada (IEC) work permit applicants who received a letter of introduction and are outside Canada

Effective May 8, 2020, and until further notice, the only International Experience Canada (IEC) candidates who border services officers should allow to enter Canada are those who received a letter of introduction and have an offer of employment with an employer who is still operating during the COVID-19 pandemic (because they are allowed to do so under provincial restrictions).

The applicant must still meet all admissibility requirements under the immigration legislation. This would apply to foreign youth in the 3 IEC categories:

Processing of work permits

Note: Work permit applicants eligible for the Urgent referrals process for work permits should continue to be processed on a priority basis, where operationally feasible.

Foreign nationals outside of Canada must submit work permit applications electronically in accordance with the Ministerial Instructions.

The exemption from the travel restrictions for workers travelling from a country other than the United States only applies to work permit holders and those approved for a work permit in advance of arrival. Since foreign nationals need a work permit or approval to board an aircraft, those who are normally allowed to apply at the port of entry as per subsection R198(1) cannot do so as their travel to Canada is restricted. If the foreign national is exempt from the travel restrictions based on another exemption (for example, accompanying a Canadian citizen family member) or travelling directly from the United States, they may still apply at the POE as long as their travel is considered non-discretionary.

Foreign nationals can also continue to submit applications to extend or to change conditions on their work permits from within Canada.

Certain in-Canada applicants may still apply using paper applications if they meet one of the exemptions from the mandatory e-application requirement. They must clearly write “COVID-19” on the envelope.

Requests for additional information on open applications

Until further notice, processing offices in Canada and abroad should request additional documents, including police certificates, biometric enrolments (refer to Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Biometrics for up-to-date information), passports and medical examinations. Offices should allow extra time for response as follows:

Note: The 90-day allowance does not apply to LMIA-exempt work permit applications missing the offer of employment number. The offer of employment is a regulatory requirement under subsection R209.11(1) and must be provided by the employer through the Employer Portal before a work permit application can be submitted.

For work permit extension applications where the LMIA or Quebec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ) (if applicable) is missing, clients may be eligible for concurrent processing and have 90 days, instead of 60, to provide the document if their current work permit expires within 2 weeks of the receipt date of the work permit extension application. Clients must include a copy of a valid job offer (employment contract) and proof that the LMIA or CAQ (if applicable) application was made, such as a copy of the application sent to Employment and Social Development Canada or the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration or a copy of the confirmation of receipt if the application was made online.

Prioritizing work permit processing for essential occupations

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) will prioritize the processing of Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) for the following National Occupational Classification (NOC) codes related to agricultural, agri-food and truck driving occupations. Where operationally possible, offices are encouraged to prioritize work permit applications for these NOCs, in addition to health-related occupations, as these occupations have been identified as essential and critical for Canada.

A daily report is being pulled by the Operations Planning and Performance Branch (OPPB) and distributed to the International and Centralized Networks to ensure the following NOC codes related to work permit applications are prioritized.

OPPB will also pull a list of the following NOC codes for health-related work permit applications to ensure they are prioritized:

Note: While applications in certain sectors are being prioritized based on NOC codes, this does not preclude an officer from prioritizing a case (should all processing requirements be met and operational capacity allow) where there is a demonstrated urgent need for the worker in Canada.

Measures in place for foreign nationals in the film and television industry

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, IRCC remains committed to facilitating travel and maintaining high standards of client service while protecting the health and safety of Canadians. As part of this commitment, workers in the film and television industry entering Canada from outside the United States, or those entering from the United States who require a temporary resident visa (TRV), are eligible for priority processing. Where operationally possible, offices are encouraged to prioritize these work permit applications for eligible applicants within the 14-day priority service standard that has been established.

To be eligible for priority processing, foreign nationals must

The following foreign nationals in the film and television industry are not eligible for priority processing under this facilitation measure:

Foreign nationals are instructed to write the following (along with any other pertinent information) in the “Your enquiry” section of their web form request in order for the Client Experience Branch to identify requests and distribute them to the appropriate office for priority processing:

filmTV2020: Requesting priority processing for Film & TV Industry workers due to COVID-19.”

Identifying requests that are eligible for priority processing may require an estimated 5 days to complete. As such, expedited processing timelines will only begin once the applicant has received confirmation that their application has been identified for priority processing. Officers should send eligibility confirmation to applicants using the Film & TV Priority Processing Eligibility Letter. Officers should inform clients if they are not eligible for priority processing using the Film & TV Priority Processing Non-Eligibility Letter. If biometrics are not submitted, then the application is not eligible for priority processing and should be returned to the regular processing queue.

Offers of employment and LMIAs

Given the current exceptional circumstances, there may be an increase in the suspension of LMIAs and the withdrawal of offers of employment in the employer portal. Officers are reminded to verify that the offer has not been withdrawn and that the LMIA has not been suspended before finalizing the work permit application. For more details, consult:

For LMIA-required work permit applications, officers are reminded to review the ESDC Comments field in the LMIA under the Employment Details tab to make sure that there has been no change to the name of the foreign national in the LMIA for which the officer is assessing the application.

Workers such as truck drivers are expected to arrive in Canada and be able to perform the job. Most training facilities are likely not in operation at the moment. In addition, ESDC will issue LMIAs with a 9-month validity as opposed to 6 months to provide more flexibility.

LMIAs issued to applicants destined to Alberta

In 2017, in response to the economic downturn in Alberta, ESDC and the Alberta Ministry of Labour implemented measures to help connect Albertans with employers and jobs and maximize the use of the local labour force. These measures included the creation of a new Employer Liaison Service (ELS) Pilot to assist employers in finding available workers, as well as the implementation of a refusal to process (RTP) employers’ LMIA applications for certain high-wage occupations where there are enough Albertans with the skills to fill these positions.

As the labour market tightened under the COVID-19 pandemic and at Alberta’s request, ESDC has

  1. extended the ELS Pilot until April 30, 2021
  2. approved a refusal to process LMIAs for most occupations in the province, with certain exceptions

On October 26, 2020, the Government of Alberta announced the changes to the Pilot, which were implemented on November 1, 2020.

New expanded RTP list as of November 1, 2020
Exemptions to the RTP
  1. LMIA applications for short-term duration technical work (job duration of 30 days or less for a specialist with proprietary knowledge conducting work that entails installation, inspection or repair of equipment under warranty)
  2. LMIA applications for permanent residence or under dual intent
  3. LMIA applications under the Global Talent Stream

Consult Refusal to process a Labour Market Impact Assessment application for additional information.

Concurrent processing

Applicants whose work permit application was submitted with proof that an LMIA was requested to work in Alberta in an occupation that is not part of the 27 exempted occupations or the 3 exemptions to the RTP can no longer benefit from concurrent processing. As a result, their work permit application will be refused.

Agricultural workers under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and the Agricultural Stream (non-SAWP)

Specific instructions have been developed for agricultural workers given their importance to Canadian food security. The following guidance has been drafted to facilitate the processing of agriculture-related work permit applications as well as the workers’ arrival in Canada.

Existing and new applications

Given that some migration offices abroad may be affected by closures during the pandemic, the Rapid Response Operations Centre (RROC) will provide support for the processing of online applications. All new applications will be processed in cooperation with the responsible migration office. Standard operating procedures have been established between each migration office and the RROC, taking into consideration office- and caseload-specific factors.

Once admitted to Canada, workers must quarantine for 14 days before they start working. For more details, see ESDC’s page:

Applicants under the agricultural stream who travelled with a counterfoil letter may apply for a temporary resident visa once they are in Canada if they intend to leave the country and re-enter, since the counterfoil letter is issued for a single entry only

Immigration medical examinations

Follow regular guidance on who must submit to an immigration medical exam.

For applicants who have already done their medical examination, an extension may be granted. Identified applications with an original M1 or M3 decision will be proactively reassessed for an additional 6 months if from a designated country. Officers must send their requests to In order to ensure the request is prioritized, put “SAWP” in the subject line.

Public policies

Changing employment

A temporary public policy has been issued on the exemption from certain requirements when a temporary worker is changing employment.

Learn more:

Out-of-status foreign nationals in Canada

A temporary public policy has been issued exempting certain foreign nationals in Canada from certain requirements when they have fallen out of status.

Learn more:

Visitors applying for a work permit

A temporary public policy has been issued exempting temporary residents with valid status from meeting the requirements to apply in Canada for a work permit.

Learn more:

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