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IRCC updates eligibility requirements for Spousal Open Work Permits

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has updated the eligibility criteria for the Spousal Open Work Permit (SOWP), effective from January 22, 2024. These revisions primarily affect the spouses of international students and introduce specific academic program requirements for eligibility.

Under the new guidelines, only the spouses or partners of students enrolled in master’s or doctoral programs at recognized universities or polytechnic institutions in Canada can apply for SOWPs. This marks a significant shift from previous rules, where the spouses of undergraduate and college program students were also eligible.

However, exceptions are made for partners of undergraduate students pursuing certain professional degree programs, such as Doctor of Dental Surgery, Bachelor of Law or Juris Doctor, Doctor of Medicine, and several others in the fields of optometry, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, nursing, education, and engineering.

Applicants for the SOWP must now furnish documentation proving their relationship with the student and evidence of the student’s enrollment in a qualifying program. Acceptable documents include a valid Letter of Acceptance (LOA), a proof of enrollment letter, or transcripts from the partner’s current academic program.

For those who submitted their SOWP application prior to the March 19 cutoff, eligibility will be determined based on the study permit validity of the partner, their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit, and their full-time enrollment status at eligible educational institutions, including public post-secondary schools, private college-level schools in Quebec, or Canadian private schools authorized to award degrees.

Individuals who are now ineligible for a SOWP under the new criteria have the option to apply for a different type of work permit or a visitor visa. It’s important to note that visitors to Canada are not allowed to work without the appropriate permit.

The SOWP has been a pivotal component of Canada’s immigration policy, promoting family reunification by allowing permit holders to work for almost any employer in the country. This update comes amid concerns voiced by Immigration Minister Marc Miller regarding the exploitation of the program, indicating a move towards stricter eligibility to maintain the program’s integrity and address operational challenges

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