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The details of obtaining a Spousal Open Work Permit

Foreign nationals who have applied for permanent residence (PR) through the Spousal/Common-law Sponsorship Program are now eligible to receive a Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP) while they await a decision from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

What is the Spousal Sponsorship Program?

A spousal sponsorship program is an immigration option for foreign nationals who are in a spousal or common-law relationship with a Canadian permanent resident or citizen. Through this program, Canadian PRs and citizens can apply to become a sponsor for a loved one who, if approved, may be granted PR in Canada.

Importantly, the spousal sponsorship program has Inland (for couples currently living in Canada) and Outland (for couples where the foreign national partner is residing outside of Canada) application processes—through the SOWP is only available for Inland sponsorship cases.

Benefits of the SOWP

To be eligible as a sponsor, Canadian citizens/PRs must be able to financially support their spouse/partner, covering their basic needs (housing, food, personal hygiene, clothing, daily living items, and medical expenses not covered by public health insurance), while ensuring that they will not require government social assistance.

Sponsors will be required to sign an undertaking to provide for the individual being sponsored for three years; IRCC responds to applications in about 12 months.

This is where the SOWP comes in, allowing foreign nationals who are sponsored to help their spouse/financial partner’s burden while also not having to choose between being with their loved one and maintaining their current temporary resident status in Canada.  These SOWPs are usually valid for up to two years after being approved.

Eligibility for sponsorship and to be sponsored

Even before considering a SOWP, there are a few criteria that must be met for Inland sponsorships through the spousal sponsorship program. Before the application is reviewed, both the Canadian PR or citizen sponsoring their loved one and the foreign national being sponsored must apply and be eligible for the program.

Potential Sponsors must:

  • Be a Canadian citizen or PR;
  • At least 18 years of age;
  • Living with the person being sponsored (at the same address);
  • In either a spousal (legally married, with a valid marriage under the law of the jurisdiction where it was registered, and under Canadian law) or common-law (you are cohabitating or have cohabited with your partner in a marriage-like relationship for 12 months or more) relationship with the sponsored individual; and
  • Not be in prison, charged with a serious offense, or bankrupt.

Foreign nationals being sponsored must:

  • Be of legal temporary resident status in Canada at the time of applying (visitor, student, or worker);
  • At least 18 years of age;
  • Living with their potential sponsor at the same address;
  • In a spousal or common-law relationship with their potential sponsor; and
  • Not be in prison, charged with a serious offense, or bankrupt.

It is important to note that while Outland sponsorship through the spousal sponsorship programme accepts conjugal relationships as valid for application, Inland sponsorship criteria do not.

Following eligibility determination, candidates will proceed to apply for an Inland sponsorship through the spousal sponsorship program, including following the government checklist and paying the necessary fees. Candidates will submit two applications at the same time (one for the sponsor and the second for the foreign national being sponsored).

Eligibility and applying for a SOWP

To apply for a SOWP, candidates being sponsored must:

  • Have submitted a permanent residence application through the spousal sponsorship program;
  • Reside at the same address as the sponsor (spouse/common-law partner);
  • Have a valid temporary resident status; and
  • Meet all the eligibility requirements under the spousal sponsorship program (listed above).

Candidates who meet these criteria are eligible to apply for a SOWP through the open work permit application process (OWP).

It is possible to apply for both sponsorship and a SOWP at the same time; however, candidates must first receive an acknowledgment of receipt from IRCC for their spousal sponsorship program application.

Candidates are then eligible to receive a SOWP before IRCC makes a decision on their application. Candidates must wait until they receive the SOWP before starting work (unless they already have a work permit under their temporary status).

While the process of sponsoring a loved one for PR can be lengthy and complicated, the added possibility of receiving a SOWP can relieve the couple of much of the burden, while also providing the foreign national being sponsored with the opportunity to gain valuable Canadian work experience and not forcing them to choose between the ability to work and continue their legal status—even while they await an IRCC decision.

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