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I. Introduction

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act[1] and its regulations[2] are the predominant federal laws that regulate immigration to Canada.  There are four main programs that allow eligible lower-skilled workers to enter and work in the country on a temporary basis.  The provinces and territories also have their own Provincial Nominee Programs, which may be available to lower-skilled workers.[3]

The federal government of Canada administers the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,[4] which authorizes eligible foreign workers to work in Canada for an approved period of time if “employers can demonstrate that they are unable to find suitable Canadians/permanent residents to fill the jobs and that the entry of these workers will not have a negative impact on the Canadian labour market.”[5]  According to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website, “[e]mployers from all types of businesses can recruit foreign workers with a wide range of skills to meet temporary labour shortages.”[6]

In 2002, Canada instituted a Low Skilled Worker Pilot (C & D) project, which allows employers to hire temporary foreign workers (TFWs) with “lower levels of formal training.”[7]  In Canada, “skill level” requirements are defined by the National Occupational Classification (NOC) system.  Under this system, level C is defined as “Occupations requiring the completion of secondary school and up to two years of occupation-specific training”[8] and level D as “Occupations which can be performed after receiving a short work demonstration or on-the-job training.”[9]  The pilot project also has an agricultural stream.[10]

In addition, Canada receives low-skilled workers as part of its Live-in Caregiver Program and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.  The Live-in Caregiver Program “allows families to hire a foreign live-in caregiver, often called a nanny, when Canadian citizens and permanent residents are not available.”[11]  The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program “matches workers from Mexico and the Caribbean countries with Canadian farmers who need temporary support during planting and harvesting seasons, when qualified Canadians or permanent residents are not available.”[12] 

Three departments jointly administer the temporary labor migration programs: CIC, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada/Service Canada, and the Canada Border Services Agency.[13]

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II.  Eligibility for Admission as a “Low-skilled” Temporary Worker

The following requirements apply to all of the four temporary labor migration programs.  Before a work permit for a “low-skilled” temporary worker can be issued, the Canadian employer may have to obtain a positive Labour Market Opinion (LMO, also known as an employment confirmation) from Service Canada.  An LMO “assesses what impact hiring a temporary foreign worker would have on the job market.  It also ensures that the offer of employment is genuine and that the wages and working conditions are consistent with those of Canadians.”[14]

After a positive or neutral LMO is granted, the migrant worker must apply to CIC for a work permit.  Applicants applying for a temporary work permit must meet specified eligibility criteria.  Under the standard criteria, an applicant must

  • satisfy an officer that he or she will leave Canada at the end of his or her employment,
  • show that he or she has enough money to take care of him- or herself and relevant family members while in Canada and to return home,
  • be law-abiding and have no record of criminal activity (applicants may be asked to provide a Police Clearance Certificate),
  • “not be a danger to the security of Canada,”
  • “be in good health and complete a medical examination, if required,”
  • “not intend to engage in employment with an employer on the list of ineligible employers,”
  • not have worked in Canada for one or more periods totaling four years after April 1, 2011 (with certain exceptions), and
  • “provide any additional documents requested by the officer to establish admissibility.”[15]

In addition, each program has its own eligibility criteria for both employees and employers.

A. Admission Requirements for Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program

To qualify as part of this program the foreign worker must (1) have experience in farming, (2) be at least eighteen years of age, (3) be a citizen of one of the participating countries, and (4) be able to satisfy the Canadian immigration laws and laws of the worker’s home country.[16]  The foreign worker must also accept and sign an employment contract. According to HRSDC, the governments of participating countries must ensure that the men and women selected to work temporarily in Canada meet all the requirements of the SAWP.[17]

Employers must also meet three criteria: (1) the TFWs hired must be citizens from Mexico or participating Caribbean countries; (2) production must be in specific commodity sectors, and (3) the TFWs must work on the farm in primary agriculture.[18]  The employer is also required to cover certain costs of the worker.  Under the program, an employer

  • partially pays for round-trip airfare between the worker’s country of residence and Canada based on an agreement reached by both countries (except for British Columbia where employers pay full airfare);
  • pays costs of travel between the airport (or other point of arrival) in Canada and the place of employment and worksites;
  • supplies free housing (except in British Columbia) that meets municipal building requirements and health standards set by the province where the work is being done;
  • provides a proper cooking area with pots and pans if workers choose to make their own meals; employers who provide meals may deduct up to $6.50 per day from the worker’s wages to offset costs;
  • ensures workers are registered with the provincial health insurance plan; and
  • provides free, on-the-job injury and illness insurance (called Workers’  Compensation).[19]

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B. Admission Requirements for C & D Pilot Project

In addition to possibly being required to obtain an LMO for a temporary worker, employers must agree to the following:

  • Meet the minimum advertisement efforts required;
  • Pay round trip transportation costs;
  • Ensure medical insurance coverage is provided at no cost to the foreign worker until he/she is eligible for provincial health insurance;
  • Confirm the availability of affordable and suitable accommodation;
  • Sign an employment contract;
  • Offer wages that meet the prevailing rate for the occupation and region where the worker will be employed or, if the position is unionized, offer the wage rate as established in the collective agreement;
  • Provide working conditions that are equivalent to those offered to Canadians in the same occupation;
  • Agree to review and adjust (if necessary) the worker’s wages after 12 months of employment to ensure the worker continues to receive the prevailing wage rate of the occupation and region where he/she is employed.[20]

After a copy of the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada/Service Canada confirmation letter or LMO has been received by the employer it must be sent to the foreign worker with a signed employment contract. The worker then must sign the employment contract and apply to CIC for a work permit.  The worker must include the confirmation letter and employment contract when he or she applies.[21]

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C.  Admission Requirements for Live-in Caregiver Program

Under this program, employers must meet certain requirements before they can hire a foreign live-in caregiver, which include

  • having made a sufficient effort to first fill the position with a Canadian, a permanent resident, or a foreign worker already in Canada;
  • having sufficient income to pay a live-in caregiver;
  • providing acceptable accommodation in his or her home;
  • making a “job offer that has primary caregiving duties for a child or an elderly or disabled person (a job offer with the primary duties of a housecleaner, for example, is not acceptable under the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), but could be appropriate under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program);” and
  • submitting an application for an LMO with the employment contract to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada/Service Canada (HRSDC/SC).[22]

According to the CIC website, caregivers will be “carefully screened” by a CIC visa officer before they enter Canada and must meet the eligibility requirements of the Live-in Caregiver Program.[23]  The requirements for this program include

  • the successful completion of the equivalent of a Canadian secondary school
  • at least six months of full-time classroom training or at least one year of work experience as a caregiver or in a related field or occupation within the last three years, including at least six months of continuous employment with one employer
  • the ability to speak, read and understand English or French, so that they can function on their own in an unsupervised setting
  • the passing of medical, security and criminal clearances
  • the signed written employment contract with an employer in Canada[.][24]

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III.  Recruitment and Sponsorship

Government involvement in the recruitment and sponsorship is high in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program since it is administered through bilateral agreements between Canada and the participating countries (Mexico and other Caribbean countries).  Foreign governments are responsible for recruiting and selecting the TFWs, maintaining a pool of qualified workers, and appointing representatives to assist workers in Canada.[25]

Employers are responsible for recruiting and selecting the temporary worker under the C & D pilot project, in which “recruiting happens privately, often through recruitment agencies based in Canada or abroad.”[26] 

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IV.  Work Permit Conditions

An employer can hire a temporary worker for twenty-four months under the C & D pilot program.  Before 2009, after the twenty-four-month period was completed the foreign national was required to return to their home country for a minimum of four months before applying for a new work permit under the pilot program. After 2009, the work permit can be extended and a “work permit application cannot be refused solely because a temporary foreign worker has already worked in Canada for twenty-four months; or has not returned home for a minimum period of four months.”[27]  The employer must apply for a new LMO from Service Canada to extend a job offer.  With limited exceptions, “workers with these skills cannot apply for permanent residence; they are granted only temporary migrant status.”[28]

Under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, “employers can hire TFWs from participating countries for a maximum duration of eight months, between January 1 and December 15, provided they are able to offer the workers a minimum of 240 hours of work within a period of six weeks or less.”[29]  According to CIC, the work permit under this program cannot be extended.  The worker “must leave Canada no later than December 15th.”[30]  Furthermore, the employer must request authorization from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) to hire the worker each season, and the worker must go back to his home country before he can apply for another work permit.[31]

Work permits for the Live-in Caregivers Program extend to up to four years plus three months and are renewable.  Workers under the Live-in Caregivers Program can apply to become permanent residents as long as they meet certain requirements.[32]

Low-skilled workers may also be eligible to gain permanent residency through Provincial Nominee Programs.[33]

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V.  Admission Status of Family Members

Spouses[34] or dependent children[35] of temporary workers are not given an automatic right of entry.  They must either apply for a temporary residence visa, separate work permit, or student permit depending on whether they meet the specific requirements for each authorization.

In most cases, if the accompanying spouse or common-law partner or children wish to work they must apply for a separate work permit for a specific job, known as a “closed” work permit.  However, the spouse and children of temporary workers with a “lower level of formal training” may be eligible for an open work permit through an active pilot project in certain provinces and territories.[36]  Under this pilot project, such as that in place in British Columbia, “[f]amily members of seasonal agricultural workers (including the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program participants), Live-in-Caregivers (including non-LCP live-in caregivers) and temporary foreign workers . . . who have work permits issued under the International Experience Canada Program” are not eligible for open work permits.[37]

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Prepared by Tariq Ahmad
Legal Research Analyst
Februrary 2013



[1] Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, S.C. 2001, c. 27, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/I-2.5/index.html.

[2] Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (SOR/2002-227), http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/ SOR-2002-227/index.html

[3] Provincial Nominees, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/ provincial/index.asp (last updated Oct. 22, 2012).
[4] Temporary Foreign Worker Program, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/foreign_workers/index.shtml (last updated Feb. 4, 2013).
[5] How to Hire a Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) A Guidebook for Employers, CIC, http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/ resources/publications/tfw-guide.asp (last updated Jan. 18, 2013).
[6] Id.

[7] Foreign Workers, HRSDC, http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/foreign_workers/ei_tfw/orllft_tfw.shtml (last updated Aug. 26, 2011).

[8] Fay Faraday, Summary Report: Made in Canada – How the Law Constructs Migrant Workers’ Insecurity 9 (Metcalf Foundation, Sept. 2012), http://metcalffoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Made-in-Canada-Summary-Report.pdf.  For the full report see http://metcalffoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/ 2012/09/Made-in-Canada-Full-Report.pdf.
[9] Id.
[11] Live-in Caregiver Program: Program Description, HRSDC, http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/ foreign_workers/caregiver/description.shtml (last updated July 25, 2012); see also Determine Your Eligibility—Hiring a Live-in Caregiver, CIC, http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/work/apply-who-caregiver.asp (last updated Oct. 19, 2012).

[12] Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, HRSDC, http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/foreign_ workers/ei_tfw/sawp_tfw.shtml (last updated June 10, 2009).  For additional and more detailed information, see Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program: Requirements HRSDC, http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/ foreign_workers/sawp/requirements.shtml (last updated Feb. 15, 2013).

[13] How to Hire a Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW): A Guidebook for Employers, supra note 5.

[14] Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Stream for Lower-skilled Occupations: Questions and Answers, HRSDC, http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/foreign_workers/questions-answers/general.shtml (last updated Oct. 30, 2012).

[15] Determine Your Eligibility — Work in Canada, CIC, http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/work/apply-who-eligible.asp (last updated Oct. 12, 2012).

[16] Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program: Description, HRSDC, http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplace skills/foreign_workers/sawp/description.shtml (last updated Oct. 17, 2012).

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program: Description, supra note 16.

[20] Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Stream for Lower-skilled Occupations: Questions and Answers, supra note 14.

[21] Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Stream for Lower-skilled Occupations, HRSDC, http://www.hrsdc. gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/foreign_workers/lowskill.shtml (last updated Aug. 23, 2012).

[22] Determine Your Eligibility—Hiring a Live-in Caregiver, supra note 11.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program: Description, HRSDC, http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/ foreign_workers/sawp/description.shtml

[26] Faraday, supra note 8, at 16.

[27] Pilot Project for Workers with Lower Levels of Formal Training, CIC, http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/work/low-skill.asp.

[28] Faraday, supra note 8, at 9.

[29] Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program: Description, supra note 16.

[30] Can I Apply To Extend My Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program work permit?, CIC, http://www.cic.gc.ca/ english/helpcentre/answer.asp?q=182&t=17 (last modified Nov. 7, 2012).

[31] Id.

[32] Become a Permanent Resident – Live-in Caregivers, CIC, http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/work/caregiver/ permanent_resident.asp (last modified Oct. 19, 2012).

[33] Can Lower-skilled Workers Apply for Permanent Residence under the Canadian Experience Class?, CIC, http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/helpcentre/answer.asp?q=385&t=6 (last modified Nov. 7, 2012).

[34] Spouses and Common-law Partners: Accompanying a Student or a Temporary worker, Government of Canada, http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/united_kingdom-royaume_uni/visas/spouses-conjoints.aspx?view=d (last modified Jan. 13, 2012).

[35] Minor and Dependent Children, Government of Canada, http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/ united_kingdom-royaume_uni/visas/minors-mineurs.aspx?view=d (last modified Feb. 12, 2013).

[36]Provincial/Territorial Pilot Projects—Work in Canada, CIC, http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/work/occupations.asp (last modified Feb. 15, 2013).

[37] CIC Announces Pilot Project for Spouses and Dependent Children of Temporary Foreign Workers to Obtain Open Work Permits in BC – Effective August 2011, Bomza Law Group (Aug. 2011), http://www.canadausvisas. com/resource-centre/immigration-alerts-a-events/181-cic-announces-pilot-proect-for-spouses-and-dependent-children-of-temporary-foreign-workers-to-obtain-open-work-permits-in-bc-effective-august-2011.

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Last Updated: 09/16/2014