Work permit: COVID-19 program delivery

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

To respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, 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.

Like all travellers, temporary workers who are exempt from the travel restrictions will undergo the necessary health checks and must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Canada unless otherwise exempted under the Mandatory Isolation Order.

Foreign nationals requiring a work permit, whether they are visa required or not, will not be allowed to board a plane departing from any country other than the United States if they don’t have a valid work permit or a letter of introduction (also known as a port of entry [POE] letter).

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.

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.

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.

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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.

    Document to present to the air carrier: The status document [IMM 1442] (the actual valid work permit document).

  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.

    Document to present to the air carrier: A paper copy or e-version of the letter of introduction.

Work-permit exempt foreign nationals seeking to work in critical occupations

There are specific foreign nationals who are work permit exempt who are also exempt from the restriction on travel. Applicants coming under these work permit exemptions must follow the instructions found in Temporary resident visas (TRVs) or Electronic travel authorization (eTA) when they apply.

Offices should prioritize the processing of these TRV or eTA applications overseas and temporary resident extension applications in Canada, as these occupations were identified as essential for health, safety and food security reasons.

The following TRV or eTA required but work permit-exempt foreign nationals are not subject to the travel restrictions and may not be subject to 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.

No other foreign nationals who are work permit exempt under section R186 are allowed to travel to Canada at this time from a country other than the United States, unless they hold a national interest exemption letter.

Foreign nationals who are work permit exempt must still undergo their immigration medical examination, if required, and cannot be exempt. For information on medical examination requirements, consult Who must submit to an immigration medical exam.

Documentary evidence to be presented by work permit-exempt applicants to air carriers

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

There are overarching exceptions to the travel ban exemptions. These exceptions include a prohibition on travel for an optional or discretionary purpose.

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 temporary workers

There are exemptions from the travel restrictions for immediate family members of Canadian citizens or permanent residents. However, immediate family members of temporary workers need written authorization from IRCC to reunite or travel with the work permit holder. (See Uniting with immediate family members for more information.)

Officers must ensure that accompanying family members’ travel is not considered optional or discretionary to allow them entry to Canada. In a situation where immediate family members of the temporary worker are ordinarily residents of Canada, a border services officer may allow entry as the purpose of travel would not be optional. In a situation where the temporary worker is coming to do work that is essential for the Canadian economy, border services officers may examine the motivations for travel of any dependents at this time, particularly as schools are not open.

For example, for family members who are joining a spouse or parent while they are working in an essential job in Canada on a work permit, the purpose of the trip may not be discretionary if the whole family is relocating to Canada. The exemption from travel restrictions likely would apply if this is a relocation move. Child care may also be a consideration. For example, the spouse of the essential worker may be required to move to Canada to care for their children, given that schools are closed.

The Orders also exempt foreign nationals whose travel to Canada is authorized in writing by an officer designated under subsection 6(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) for the purpose of reuniting immediate family members (for example, a temporary worker is in Canada but their spouse and children went home to visit family and now cannot come back).

If the family is not processed as a group, the dependent family members will have to self-identify with IRCC to obtain written authorization from IRCC. Foreign nationals who present themselves at check-in for a flight to Canada without the appropriate authorization letter will not be boarded.

For guidance on required documentation, consult Family reunification.

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 entry to 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 outbreak (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 can continue to submit work permit applications, although they are required to be submitted electronically in accordance with the Ministerial Instructions.  

Due to the travel restrictions, foreign nationals who are normally allowed to apply at the port of entry as per subsection R198(1) can no longer do so as the exemption to the travel restrictions for foreign nationals arriving from a country other than the U.S. applies only to holders of a work permit or those approved for a work permit in advance of arrival.

Foreign nationals who are presenting themselves at a land border may still apply upon entry as per subsection R198(1) as long as their travel is not optional or discretionary and they are not restricted under the Orders.

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 should request any required additional documents in Canada and abroad, including police certificates, biometric enrolments, passports and medical examinations. Offices should allow extra time for response as follows:

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.

It is expected that most licensed health professionals will come under the work permit exemption for providers of emergency services for short assignments. However, in the event that licensed health professionals seek to enter Canada on a work permit, they will be required to apply abroad and wait for approval.

Those who are travelling by air from somewhere other than the U.S. will have to present a letter of introduction to the air carrier to board the flight unless they already have a valid work permit in their possession.

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 and the worker would be fulfilling an essential job during the pandemic.

Offers of employment and LMIAs

Given the current exceptional circumstances, we may see 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.

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 migration offices abroad are currently down to essential staff only, 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:

Immigration medical examinations

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

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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