Spousal Open Work Permit Requirements For Spouses of Canadian Study Permit Holders

April 18, 2024


  • Shireen Fisher

Planning to accompany your spouse on their academic adventure in Canada? You might wonder if you can work while they immerse themselves in their studies. Fortunately, Canada offers a Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP) that allows spouses of valid Canadian study permit holders to gain valuable Canadian work experience. This blog looks into the eligibility requirements for a SOWP, specifically for spouses of Canadian study permit holders.

The Spousal Open Work Permit

The Spousal Open Work Permit is an International Mobility Program (IMP) work permit category for spouses and common-law partners who are not, themselves, in possession of Canadian study permits and in the process of studying full-time. Canada allows spouses to live and work here to improve the competitiveness of its universities or the Canadian economy.

The Latest SOWP Eligibility Update

Before you apply for a SOWP, you should be aware of a recent change implemented by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on March 19, 2024. The latest update states that spouses of undergraduate and college study permit holders are no longer eligible for SOWPs. However, if your spouse is enrolled in a master’s or doctoral program at a Canadian university or polytechnic institute, you can still apply for a SOWP. We go through the eligibility requirements below.

Who is Eligible for a Spousal Open Work Permit?

To qualify for an SOWP under the recently updated regulations, you must meet certain criteria set by IRCC.

Requirements For Your Spouse (Primary Applicant)

Your Spouse or common-law partner must:

  • Have a valid Canadian study visa or have provisional approval for a study permit (if applying as a family outside Canada).
  • Be enrolled full-time in a graduate program (master's or doctorate) at a university or polytechnic institution or a professional degree-granting program
  • Be physically residing in Canada while studying, or demonstrate plans to reside in Canada during their studies.

List of Qualifying Degree-granting Programs

Degree Program Abbreviations
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 BEd
Bachelor of Engineering BEng, BE, BASc

If already in Canada, your spouse or common-law partner must:

  • Have valid temporary resident status or be eligible for restoration of such status.
  • Be eligible to apply for a work permit from within Canada (as per section R199 or an active public policy).

Applicants Who Applied Before March 19 2024

If IRCC received your application on or before March 18, 2024, it will be processed according to the rules and procedures that were applicable before then.

For applicants to qualify under administrative code C42, the principal applicant must meet specific requirements: They must:

  • Have a valid Canadian study permit or be provisionally accepted for one (if the application was made as a family group in another country)
  • be studying on a full-time basis or have proof of enrolment in full-time courses at a designated learning institution
  • be accepted by or enrolled in a post-graduation work permit-eligible study program and institution
  • be physically residing or provide proof that they plan to physically reside in Canada while studying

If you - as a spouse or common-law partner - are in Canada when you apply for a SOWP, you must:

  • Have valid temporary resident status or qualify to have your status restored
  • Qualify to submit a Canadian work permit application while in Canada

Required Documents for SOWP Application

When applying for a Spousal Open Work Permit in Canada, it is crucial to provide a comprehensive set of documents to support your application.

List of Documents For SOWP Application if You Applied on or Before March 18, 2024

If you are submitting your application before March 19, 2024, it's essential to provide the following documentation:

  • Proof of Relationship: You must demonstrate that you are the genuine spouse or common-law partner of a valid study permit holder. This could include a marriage certificate or a Statutory Declaration of Common-Law Union (IMM 5409), among other forms of proof.
  • Principal Foreign National's Status: You will need to provide evidence that the principal foreign national is enrolled in a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) and actively engaged in full-time studies in a post-graduation work permit-eligible program and institution. This could include enrollment confirmation from a Canadian public post-secondary institution, a private post-secondary institution in Quebec, or a Canadian private institution authorized to confer degrees.

Updated List of Documents You Must Submit for SOWP Application

Here is an updated list of essential documents you must submit to ensure a smooth processing of your SOWP application if you applied on or after March 19, 2024.

  • Proof of Relationship: Provide a marriage certificate, Statutory Declaration of Common-Law Union (IMM 5409), or other valid documentation.
  • Proof of Spouses Study Program: For graduate or professional degree programs: An acceptance letter from a DLI, a proof of enrollment letter from the DLI, or transcripts from your spouse's current program.
  • Additional Documents (if applicable): If extending an existing SOWP under category C42, follow the same documentation requirements as applications submitted before March 19, 2024 (consult IRCC for details).

SOWP Processing Times

The processing time for a spousal open work permit in Canada can generally take 3-5 months, but it is subject to change. The exact processing time can be found on the IRCC website based on the application country.

This time does not include the time taken to complete the Biometrics, which would depend on the country of application. Applicants must pay a total of 255 CAD combining the application and the open work permit holder fee.

Tips for a Smooth SOWP Application

Plan Ahead and Start Early

Since processing times for SOWPs can vary depending on workload and case complexity. Aim to submit your application at least three to four months before your desired work start date. This allows ample time for processing and potential requests for additional documentation.

Organize and Prepare a Complete Application

Gather all required documents well in advance. Ensure they are authentic, valid, and meet the specified format requirements (e.g., originals, certified copies, translations). Double-check expiry dates on passports and medical certificates if applicable. Use checklists provided by IRCC to ensure you have all crucial documents.

Understand Eligibility Requirements Thoroughly

Carefully review the current eligibility criteria outlined by IRCC, particularly the recent change regarding your spouses study program level (graduate or professional degree only). If unsure about any aspect of eligibility, visit the IRCC website or consult a licensed immigration consultant for clarification.

Consider Seeking Professional Help

For complex situations involving unique circumstances or previous immigration applications, consider seeking guidance from a licensed immigration consultant. Their expertise can help navigate complexities, ensure proper documentation, and potentially expedite the application process.


Can I Still Apply For a SOWP if My Spouse is in an Undergraduate or College Program?

Unfortunately, no. Due to the March 19, 2024, update, SOWPs are only available for spouses of students enrolled in graduate, doctoral, or professional degree-granting programs.

What Happens if My Spouses Study Permit Expires Before My SOWP?

Your SOWP is typically valid for the duration of your spouse’s study permit, with a maximum validity period of four years. If their study permit expires before your SOWP, you must re-apply for an SOWP if they extend their studies.