The Devil Was in the Details: Confusion and Delays Plague New Policy for the Spouses of Canadians

by Ronalee Carey Law

September 2023

     As I wrote about in June 2023, IRCC has a new policy allowing Family Class applicants to apply for open work permits. Previously, only applicants from the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada call could apply, and dependent children could not apply for work permits.

     The new policy was welcome news, as it gave more options for spouses to be reunited in Canada more quickly while continuing to meet their financial needs.

However, a policy is only as good as its implementation, and unfortunately, issues have arisen.

 - Some spouses are being denied visitor visas to allow them to come to Canada and apply for a work permit – despite adjustments to the ‘dual intent’ policy, colleagues have reported recent incidents where a spouse’s visitor visa was denied. The ground cited was ‘the purpose of your visit to Canada is not consistent with a temporary stay given the details you have provided in your application.’ This completely defeats the spirit and intent of the new work permit policy.

 - Processing delays – it is currently taking 5 weeks to process work permit applications made within Canada. Upon approval of the application, applicants are advised that it could be another 6 weeks for the work permit to arrive in the mail. Not all applicants can afford to be out of work for so long, especially as even starting a job hunt without a work permit in hand is difficult. Allowing spouses to apply for a work permit from outside Canada would allow them to start job hunting before quitting their jobs and coming to Canada and permit the work permit to be issued at the port of entry. It is unfortunate that the policy was not written to permit this.

 - Confusion about when an application can be submitted – IRCC has two different web pages that address when a work permit application can be submitted. One says you must wait until a letter acknowledging receipt of an application is received:

Open work permit: Applying as a sponsored spouse or common-law partner in Canada states:

Once you get your AOR letter, you can apply for an open work permit. You must apply online.

However, Apply online using the Permanent Residence Portal, the section ‘I want to apply for an open work permit as a spouse or common-law partner in Canada’, states:

Submitting your work permit application before you get your AoR

You may apply online for your work permit before you receive an AoR. However, if we find that your application for permanent residence isn’t complete, your work permit application may be refused.

Being permitted to submit the work permit application before the AoR is received reduces the processing time. IRCC needs to clarify its instructions on this.

 - Conjugal partners may lose that status if they enter Canada – As identified by the Canadian Immigration Lawyer’s Association, IRCC has not clarified whether a conjugal partner sponsorship will continue to be processed if the partner enters Canada after the sponsorship application has been submitted. By definition, in Canada’s immigration law, a conjugal partner is an individual residing outside of Canada. Canadian immigration law recognizes that individuals cannot be forced to marry. However, by not advising whether the policy benefits conjugal partners, IRCC is favouring married spouses.