Canada is Setting Rules For Spousal Open Work Permits

Written by

Mynaz Altaf

Fact check by

Divyansh Chaudhari

Updated on

Jul 25,2024

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From the day, March 19, 2024, partners and spouses of international students are eligible for a SOWP only if their sponsor is enrolled in a master’s or doctoral degree program at a university or polytechnic institution in Canada, 

Earlier on January 22, 2024, the department announced several modifications to Canada’s international student program. One notable change is that the spouses of international students enrolled in undergraduate and college programs will no longer qualify for SOWPs.

Although there are some exceptions for the spouses or partners of undergraduate students. The spouses of undergraduate students in one of the following professional degree programs at a university are also eligible to apply for a SOWP-

  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS, DMD)

  • Bachelor of Law or Juris Doctor (LLB, JD, BCL)

  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)

  • Doctor of Optometry (OD)

  • Pharmacy (PharmD, BS, BSc, BPharm)

  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN, BSN, BNSc)

  • Bachelor of Education (B. Ed.)

  • Bachelor of Engineering (B. Eng., BE, BASc)

Documents Required To Apply For SOWP

Spouses and partners applying for a SOWP must provide documents that prove a relationship to the student and one document showing proof of their partner’s enrolment in a degree-granting program of study. IRCC accepts:

  • A valid Letter of Acceptance (LOA) from a Designated Learning Institution (DLI)

  • Proof of enrolment letter from their spouse or partner’s DLI

  • Transcripts from their spouse or partner’s current program

In case if you have already applied, according to IRCC those who applied for a SOWP before March 19 are still eligible if their partner has the following –

  • Has a valid study permit.

  • Is eligible for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP).

  • Is a full-time student at one of these types of schools:

  • A public post-secondary school, such as a college or university, or CEGEP in Quebec

  • A private college-level school in Quebec

  • A Canadian private school that can legally award degrees under provincial law (for example, a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree)

These requirements are the same for current SOWP holders who apply to extend their existing permits.

Things you need to know about Spousal Open Work Permits

Basically, spouses and common law and conjugal partners of Canadian citizens or permanent residents can get an open work permit while their sponsorship application for permanent residence is being processed.

The benefit of a spousal open work permit is that sponsored individuals can work for almost any employer in Canada and financially support themselves and their families during the application process.

Spouses, partners, and dependents of permanent residents, citizens, temporary workers, and students studying already in Canada are eligible for an open work permit. This is actually a new measure that was announced by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada also known as IRCC.

Previously, open work permits were only available to applicants through inland sponsorship or those who were already living in Canada on a Temporary Residence Visa. IRCC aims to process applications submitted through the spousal sponsorship program within 12 months.

Something About Spousal Sponsorship

Spousal sponsorship is an important part of Canada’s immigration system. If you are a Canadian permanent resident you can sponsor your spouse, common law, or conjugal partner so they can obtain Canadian permanent residence.

In order to sponsor, you and your foreign spouse or partner will have to prove that you are in an authentic relationship that qualifies under one of the three following categories-

  • Spouse with whom you are legally married.

  • Common-law partner- you live or have lived with your partner for at least 12 consecutive months in a marriage-like relationship.

  • Conjugal partner-  you must have been in a continuous and committed relationship for a period of at least 12 months but have had significant obstacles that prevent you from residing with one another (such as cultural, religious or immigration barriers).

Sponsorship of a spouse or partner involves the commitment to provide financial support to the sponsored person, including any dependent children. As a sponsor, you will be required to sign an undertaking that promises to provide for the basic needs of the sponsored person.

These basic needs include:

  • Housing, including utility bills;

  • Food and personal hygiene products;

  • Clothing and other items necessary for daily living;

  • Medical expenses not covered by public health insurance, such as dental and eye care.

The length of the undertaking is 3 years from the day your spouse, common-law or conjugal partner becomes permanent.

Eligibility For Applying SOWP

To qualify for a Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP) in Canada, certain criteria must be met:

1. Relationship: You must be married or in a common-law partnership with a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or someone with authorized temporary status in Canada allowing them to work or study.

2. Sponsor's Status: Recent updates (effective March 19, 2024) impact eligibility based on your spouse's immigration status. Typically, you can apply if your spouse holds a valid work permit or is pursuing a master's or doctoral degree at a recognized learning institution in Canada. Exceptions apply for spouses of undergraduate students in specific professional fields like medicine, law, or engineering.

The applicant and the sponsor must meet all eligibility requirements under spousal or common-law partner sponsorship. 

Canada’s Commitment to Family Reunification

The introduction of open work permits for outland spousal sponsorship in May came along with other family reunification measures by IRCC such as the Faster temporary resident visa (TRV) processing times for spousal applicants or other one the New and dedicated processing tools for spousal TRV applicant's open work permit extensions for open work permit holders expiring between August 1st and the end of 2023

Sean Fraser who is the immigration minister at the time of the announcement of these measures said that IRCC is committed to reuniting families more efficiently and allowing them to work and support themselves once in Canada. He said by doing so, Canada is helping newcomers achieve their true potential, while also strengthening Canada’s economy.

If We Examine The Advantages of An Open Work Permit For The Spouse

Then we need to know that Canada is a country that values family reunification, and the government has several programs to help bring families together. The Spousal Partner and Children Sponsorship Programs are some of the most popular ways for Canadian citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their spouses, partners, and children to come and live with them in Canada.

As we know the immigration process can be long and complex, and it can take over a year for Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to process an application under this program. In the meantime, your spouse or partner may be able to obtain a Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP) which has certain eligibility criteria and situations that we came to know through this article.

Final Word

Canada has changed its rules for spousal open work permits starting March 19, 2024. Now, only partners of international students in master’s or doctoral programs can get a permit. Earlier, spouses of undergraduates couldn't get permits, but there are exceptions for some special programs. Applicants need to show their relationship and their partner's enrollment proof. If your partner applied before March 19, they might still get a permit if they meet certain conditions. Canada wants families to be together and is making it easier for spouses to work while they're here.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible for a spousal open work permit under Canada's new rules?

Under the new regulations, partners of international students enrolled in master’s or doctoral degree programs are eligible for a spousal open work permit.

2. What changes were made to Canada's spousal open work permit policy announced on January 22, 2024?

Previously, spouses of international students in undergraduate and college programs were ineligible for spousal open work permits, except for those in specific professional degree programs.

Are there any exceptions to the new rules for spousal open work permits in Canada?

Yes, there are exceptions for spouses of undergraduate students in specific professional degree programs, such as Doctor of Dental Surgery, Bachelor of Law, or Doctor of Medicine, who remain eligible for spousal open work permits.