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IRCC updates eligibility requirements for Spousal Open Work Permits

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has released more details surrounding changes to eligibility for Spousal Open Work Permits (SOWP).


On January 22, 2024, the department introduced several changes to Canada’s international student program. Among them, IRCC said that the spouses of international students in undergraduate and college programs will no longer be eligible for SOWPs.

As of March 19, 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.

There are some exceptions for the spouses or partners of undergraduate students. 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)

Spouses and partners applying for an 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:

If you already applied

IRCC says that those who applied for a SOWP before March 19 are still eligible if their partner:

  • 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 permit.

What if you’re not eligible?

Spouses and partners of international students who find themselves no longer eligible for a SOWP can apply for another type of work permit or a visitor visa (TRV). However, those who arrive in Canada as a visitor are not permitted to work.

A SOWP allows holders to work for almost any employer in Canada. It is also a means to support IRCC’s mandate to promote family reunification.

However, in a comment to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) on February 28, Immigration Minister Marc Miller said that he was limiting SOWPs to the partners and spouses of master’s and PhD students to “attack a volume challenge but also integrity challenges with what we believe was an area that was being exploited and not necessarily legitimate.”


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