In recent years, Canada has begun issuing open work permits to migrant workers who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing abuse in the context of their employment in Canada. In this blog post, we summarize how the Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Workers category works, and how it may apply to you.

Migrant workers on employer-specific work permits in Canada and experiencing abuse in the workplace may be eligible for an open work permit. The open work permit allows the worker to sever ties with the abusive employer without jeopardizing their immigration status.

In Canada, migrant workers on employer-specific work permit are only authorized to work for the employer that is specified on their work permit. If they leave their jobs, they need to apply for a new work permit. This structure creates an environment where the migrant worker completely depends on their employer to be able to continue working in Canada. These workers may be afraid to report instances of abuse to relevant authorities due to the risk of losing their authorization to work in Canada.

In order to address this issue, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (“IRPR”) was amended to allow migrant workers who experience abuse or who are at risk of abuse in the context of their employment to apply for open work permits. This open work permit authorizes such workers to work for other employers.

What is considered as “abuse”?

For the purposes of this process, the term “abuse” includes:

  • physical abuse, including assault and forcible confinement;
  • sexual abuse, including sexual contact without consent;
  • psychological abuse, including threats and intimidation;
  • financial abuse, including fraud and extortion.

It is important to remember that even if the migrant worker is not directly experiencing abuse, where their co-workers are being abused by their employer, it puts them at risk of experiencing an abusive situation. Therefore, in that situation, they also may be eligible to apply for an open work permit.

Who is eligible to apply for open work permit?

At the time they apply, the applicants must be in Canada and must either:

  • have a valid work permit that is LMIA required; or
  • have a valid work permit that is LMIA exempt, employer specific; or
  • have applied for a renewal of one of these types of work permits and be currently authorized to work in Canada.

How to apply?

The applications must be submitted directly to Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”). Applicants must also include a letter of explanation detailing the abuse or the risk of abuse.

In order to support their claim, applicants should also consider including evidence of abuse and/or risk of abuse. The evidence may include a letter, statement or report from an abuse support organization, medical doctor, health-care professional or other such entity; a sworn statement (affidavit) by the applicant; a copy of an official complaint form filed with an enforcement agency (i.e., Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”), Canada Borders Service Agency (“CBSA”), the Ministry of Labour etc.); and/or any other supporting or additional material, such as victim impact statements, hard copies of email messages, photos showing injuries or working conditions, witness testimonies.

Vulnerable open work permit applicants are exempt from the work permit processing fee and the open work permit privilege fee.

These open work permit applications are issued on an urgent basis—they are processed in five (5) business days from the receipt of the application. However, it is important to remember that the processing times may differ due to the high volumes of applications received by IRCC.

If you have any questions about the open work permits for vulnerable foreign workers, please do not hesitate to contact us.


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