Immigration update: Temporary policies help employers address labour shortages and allow foreign workers in Canada to quickly change jobs or employers

8 minute read
03 June 2020


Canada has introduced a number of temporary policies in response to the COVID-19 situation that assist employers to address near term labour shortages.  One of the policies also assists temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Canada to change employers or jobs much more quickly than before.

We have set out three of these policies below, and how they may be utilized by employers.

1. Temporary policy fast tracks work authorizations for TFWs in Canada changing employers or jobs

On May 12, 2020 a new temporary policy was introduced by IRCC that allows eligible foreign workers who are already in Canada to quickly change occupations (with their current employer) or to change employers.

Normally the process takes 3 to 4 months, as the worker had to wait for the new work permit to be issued before changing jobs. The new policy fast tracks things by allowing the worker to start in the new job within 10 days, while the work permit change application is being processed. The policy includes an exemption from providing biometrics if the Service Canada office covering the area where the worker lives is temporarily closed or is not collecting biometrics due to COVID-19.

To be eligible, the foreign national must:

  1. Be in Canada with valid temporary resident status (including implied status);
  2. Hold a valid employer-specific work permit or be authorized to work without a work permit under the IRPA regulations when the work permit application is submitted;
  3. Have submitted a work permit renewal or change application in Canada for an employer-specific work permit, for which a decision has not yet been made;
  4. Intend to work for a new employer and/or in a new occupation with the same employer; and
  5. Have applied for the public policy exemption using the electronic means identified by IRCC (see link below for details).

If the request meets the requirements, IRCC will send an e-mail to the worker which will be the authorization to work for the new employer or in the new occupation until a final determination is made on the work permit application.  This e-mail will be sent to the worker within 10 days.  The worker must not start the new job before the work authorization e-mail is received.

Further details of the policy are set out here:  Public policy on exemptions to work permit conditions when changing employment.

Note that the TFW in Canada must be eligible for a work permit category to be able to apply for and be approved for a new employer-specific work permit. The employer must therefore obtain an LMIA under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, or file an offer in its Employer Portal under an applicable International Mobility Program work permit category.

The new policy assists eligible TFWs in Canada, who may face loss of employment due to the COVID situation, to move quickly to another employer.  

Benefits for employers:  Employers that need to move current TFWs to different positions can quickly do so (though employers should also obtain employment law advice before doing so).  Secondly, employers that have skills shortages can potentially quickly hire an eligible TFW who is already in Canada to fill that need.

2. Temporary Expansion of Work Hours for International Students Working in Essential Services

International students in Canada who hold a study permit and who are studying full-time at a post-secondary institution may normally work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week while attending classes.

However, the 20 hours per week cap on working off-campus during an academic session has been temporarily lifted for some students.  International students can work full-time provided they are working in an essential service or function. Refer to Public Safety Canada's Guidance on Essential Services and Functions in Canada  to determine if the work qualifies for the essential service exemption.

Both international students and employers need to ensure that the international student is eligible to work full-time.  Otherwise, the situation will create non-compliance under IRPA.

This temporary measure will be in place until August 31, 2020.

Benefit for employers:  Employers that provide essential services and are facing labour shortages will be able to access more hours of work from eligible international students who are in Canada.

3. Temporary Faster Processing for Essential Occupations in Food Processing, Agriculture and Trucking Sectors

Canada introduced a "fast track" LMIA process in March 2020 and is offering priority processing to obtain work authorizations for TFWs in the following occupations:

Food Processing: Labourers in food/beverage production, fish and seafood plant workers, butchers and meat processors, fishmongers.

Agriculture: Farm workers, agricultural services contractors, harvesting workers, nursery/greenhouse workers.

Trucking: Transport Truck Drivers.

Those occupations are facing labour shortages and are also considered essential services. The full list of priority occupations and NOC codes can be found here: List of the Ten Occupations Receiving Priority LMIA Processing.

The requirement to advertise the position for at least 4 weeks before applying for an LMIA has been waived. Employers can apply directly to ESDC for an LMIA without having to advertise. Once an LMIA is issued by ESDC, it can be used to apply for a work permit.

This temporary measure will be in place until October 31, 2020.

Benefit for employers: Allows employers in these essential sectors to address labour shortages faster and to bring in TFWs sooner.


Canada has introduced a number of temporary measures to assist employers to meet labour requirements during the COVID outbreak.  The first two measures cited above are aimed at enabling employers to more easily access the pool of TFWs and international students who are already here in Canada.

Canada also continues to process LMIA and work permit applications for potential TFW candidates who are outside of Canada, although there may be delays in processing due to the COVID situation. Our earlier update at the following link provides information on that:  Gowling WLG Newsletter Article on TFWs and Travel to Canada.

Please contact a member of the Gowling WLG Immigration Group if you require any assistance regarding immigration or work permit matters.

NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on this website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. Gowling WLG professionals will be pleased to discuss resolutions to specific legal concerns you may have.
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