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Recent Changes to Spousal Open Work Permits: What You Need to Know


In a recent announcement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), significant updates have been made to the eligibility criteria for Spousal Open Work Permits (SOWP). These changes, effective as of January 22, 2024, specifically impact the spouses of international students and have been introduced to address both volume and integrity challenges in the immigration system.


Key Changes to SOWP Eligibility

Previously, spouses of international students pursuing undergraduate or college programs were eligible for SOWPs. However, under the new regulations, this eligibility is now restricted. Starting March 19, 2024, only the spouses or partners of students enrolled in master’s or doctoral programs at recognized Canadian universities or polytechnic institutions will qualify for SOWPs.


Exceptions to the New Rule

There are exceptions to this rule. Spouses of undergraduate students are still eligible to apply for SOWPs if the student is enrolled in specific professional degree programs, including:


    • 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)


Applicants must provide sufficient documentation proving their relationship and their partner’s enrollment in an eligible program, which includes a valid Letter of Acceptance (LOA), a proof of enrollment letter, or transcripts from the current program.


Current SOWP Holders and Previous Applicants

Those who applied for an SOWP prior to March 19 will maintain their eligibility under the old rules, provided that their partner holds a valid study permit, is eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), and is a full-time student at eligible Canadian institutions.


Alternatives for Those Now Ineligible

Spouses and partners who no longer meet the eligibility criteria for a SOWP due to these changes have the option to apply for other types of work permits or a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV). It is important to note that visitors to Canada under a TRV are not permitted to work.


According to Immigration Minister Marc Miller, these adjustments are aimed at addressing concerns over the integrity of the program and reducing the exploitation of the immigration system. By restricting SOWPs to the spouses and partners of students in higher degree programs, IRCC aims to better align the permit’s availability with its objectives of family reunification and support for high-skilled immigration.


This development is a critical update for anyone involved with or considering applying for a SOWP in Canada. As always, potential applicants should consult with immigration professionals or directly with IRCC to ensure compliance with the new requirements and to explore other available options if they find themselves impacted by these changes.


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