The details of obtaining a Spousal Open Work Permit

The details of obtaining a Spousal Open Work Permit

As part of the wider family class sponsorship programs, 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 wait for a decision from Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

What is the Spousal Sponsorship Program?

The spousal sponsorship program is an immigration stream designed for foreign nationals who are in a spousal, or common-law relationship with a Canadian PR or citizen. Through this program, Canadian PRs and citizens can apply to become a sponsor of their loved one, who may receive PR in Canada if approved.

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

Benefits of the SOWP

To be eligible as a sponsor (among other criteria) Canadian citizens/PRs must be able to support their spouse/partner financially, 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 need social assistance from the government.

Sponsors will be required to sign an undertaking to provide for the individual being sponsored for three years; IRCC takes approximately 12 months to respond to an application.

This is where the SOWP comes in, giving those foreign nationals being sponsored an option to aid their spouse/partner’s financial burden, while also not having to choose between being with their loved one, or continuing 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

For Inland sponsorships through the spousal sponsorship program, there are a few criteria that must be met, even before thinking about a SOWP. Both the Canadian PR or citizen sponsoring their loved one, and the foreign national being sponsored must apply and be eligible for the program before the application is assessed.

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.

Note that while Outland sponsorship through the spousal sponsorship program does also consider conjugal relationships as valid for applications, Inland sponsorship criteria does not.

After determining eligibility, candidates will follow the next steps 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 simultaneously (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).

Once candidates meet these criteria, they are eligible to apply for a SOWP through the process of applying for an open work permit (OWP).

It is possible to apply for both sponsorship and a SOWP at the same time; if candidates do not do so, they will have to wait to receive an acknowledgment of receipt from IRCC of their spousal sponsorship program application first.

From here candidates are eligible to receive a SOWP before their application has a decision from IRCC. Candidates must wait till they receive the SOWP to begin work (unless they already have a work permit under their temporary status).

While the process of sponsoring a loved one for PR may be long and contain many steps, the added possibility of receiving a SOWP can take much of the burden off of the couple, while giving the foreign national being sponsored a chance to gain valuable Canadian work experience; and not making them choose between the ability to work, or continue their legal status—even while they await a decision from IRCC.