Navigating the Canadian Immigration System

Newcomers Canada’s Immigration section is designed to help you find what you’re looking for as quickly as possible. We hope that in mapping out the various visa categories and programs it will help you to navigate the Canadian immigration system.

We have provided information on different types of visas, as well as the many different immigration programs available in Canada, such as Express Entry and IEC.
You can connect in person with organizations that can help you immigrate to and settle in Canada at our Newcomers Canada events.



Family reunification is one of the main objectives of Canada’s immigration policy. If you have a family and are immigrating to Canada, you will most likely want to bring your family with you.

If you are a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident, it is possible to bring:

  • Your spouse or common-law partner
  • Your dependent child
  • Your spouse or common-law partners dependent child
  • A dependent child of a dependent child

The Canadian government recently changed the definition of a dependent child. A dependent child must now be 19 years of age or under; previously the limit was 22 years of age.

Parents, grandparents and other family members cannot come with you when you immigrate to Canada, but you may have the opportunity to sponsor them to move once you have arrived in Canada.

Sponsoring your Spouse, Partner or Child

If you wish to sponsor your spouse, partner or child, you must provide proof you can:

  • Meet basic needs (e.g. food, shelter, clothing)
  • Support your spouse, partner or child financially
  • Make sure your relative does not need to ask for financial help from the government

Your relative must also have medical, criminal and background checks.

If you are eligible to sponsor a family member or spouse and you can fulfil the above needs, you may apply to the Immigration, Refugees and Canada (IRCC) to become a sponsor. If you live in Quebec, you must also fulfil the Quebec government’s requirements for sponsors, which you can find on the official Quebec government website.  Sponsors are also known as guarantors.

Since December 2014, eligible spouses or common law partners now have the opportunity to work in Canada while they wait for their permanent residence application to be processed. For more information on this new rule, see the IRCC website.

Sponsoring your Parents or Grandparents

If you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and already living in Canada, you may apply to IRCC to sponsor your parents or grandparents to become permanent residents under the Family Class visa. If you are eligible to sponsor your parents or grandparents, you must be able to financially support them and ensure they do not need government assistance to live in Canada.

There is also a temporary visa option for parents or grandparents who wish to visit Canadian citizens or permanent residents. This type of visa is called the Parent and Grandparent Super Visa, which allows parents or grandparents to visit their family for up to two years without having to renew their status.

For more information on sponsoring family members to move to Canada, see the IRCC website.  



If you are a skilled worker, there are two main pathways to living and working in Canada, depending on whether the worker wishes to stay in the country on a temporary basis or permanently.


Temporary Workers

If you plan to work in Canada temporarily, it’s likely your employer will need to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) before hiring you. An LMIA is an assessment from Economic and Social Development Canada(ESDC) which shows whether Canadians are available to take up a job, or if there is a need for a foreign worker.

It is the responsibility of your potential employer to apply for an LMIA, and if approved, they can then pass it on to you. For more information on LMIA’s, see our section ‘What is an LMIA?’.


Permanent Workers

Skilled workers are chosen as permanent residents based on their ability to settle in Canada and contribute to the economy. They are assessed primarily on English and/or French language skills, education and work experience. There are four main visa types which allow skilled workers to stay in Canada permanently. These are the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program, the Canadian Experience Class, and the Provincial Nominee Program.


Federal Skilled Worker Program

In order to be eligible for the Federal Skilled Worker Program, you must fulfil certain criteria. For example:

  • Your must have one year of paid skilled work experience within the last ten years
  • Your work experience must be in the same National Occupational Classification (NOC) skill type
  • You must show that you meet the language and educational requirements

These factors are part of a 100 point grid, used to determine a worker’s eligibility. You must earn 67 points to pass. For a full list of criteria and to find out if you are eligible, see the Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website.


Federal Skilled Trades Program

The Federal Skilled Trades Program is similar to that of the Federal Skilled Worker, and is for people who wish to become permanent residents based on being qualified in a skilled trade.  The minimum requirements to be eligible for this program are:

  • You must meet the required level of English or French
  • You must have at least two years of  full time work experience in your skilled trade You must meet the job requirements for that trade as set out in the NOC
  • You must have an offer of full time employment for a period of at least one year, or a certificate of qualification in your trade issued by a Canadian authority

For more details on the Federal Skilled Trades Program, see the IRCC website.


Canadian Experience Class

This program gives permanent residency to skilled workers who already have Canadian work experience. To be eligible for the Canadian Experience Class, you must:

  • Have at least 12 months full time skilled work experience in Canada within the three years before your application
  • Meet the required language skill level needed for your job

To find out more about Canadian Experience Class, see the IRCC website.


Provincial Nominee Program

Due to an agreement with the Government of Canada, most provinces and territories in Canada can nominate skilled workers who wish to settle there. You must apply to the province or territory you wish to move to. If your application is successful and you have been nominated, you must then apply to IRCC for permanent residence. For more information on the Provincial Nominee Program, see our section on ‘What is the PNP?’ and the IRCC website.


Express Entry

Canada’s new Express Entry system is the current method of selecting candidates for the above permanent residence programs. To find out more about this system, see our ‘What is Express Entry?’ section.

The province of Quebec selects its own skilled workers, and therefore does not use this system. If you plan to live in Quebec, please see the IRCC website for information. 



It is no surprise Canada is a very popular place to study – it offers students the chance to achieve internationally recognized degrees and participate in one of the best education systems in the world. If you are an international student wishing to study in Canada, you will need a study permit. To obtain a study permit, you must first receive an acceptance letter from a designated learning institution.

Each designated learning institution in Canada has a unique identification number called a Designated Institution (DLI#) which you must include on your study permit application form. You can find a list of designated learning institutions and their numbers on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website.


Applying for a Study Permit

As we have mentioned above, the first thing you will need to apply for a study permit is a letter of acceptance from the school, college or university you will be attending. You will also need:

  • Proof of identity – e.g. a valid passport
  • Proof that you can financially support yourself while in Canada – this may be proof of a student loan, bank statements from past four months, a letter from the person providing you with money etc.
  • Letter explaining why you need the study permit and what you will be doing in Canada.

You can apply either online or on paper. Full details are provided on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website.


Study Permit Extensions

It is possible to extend your study permit and stay longer in Canada. You must complete an ‘Application to Change Conditions or Extend your Stay in Canada’. It’s important to note you must apply for this at least 30 days before your current permit expires. Once again, this can be applied for either online or on paper. For more information, take a look at the official guide on the IRCC website.


Working in Canada while Studying

If you wish to work in Canada while you are a student, you have several options:

  • Working on campus. You do not need a work permit to do this, as long as you are a full time student with a valid study permit.
  • Working off campus. Once again you do not need a work permit to do this, as long as you have a valid study permit and are studying full time in a course that leads to a degree or diploma, and is at least six months in duration. In this case, you can work a total of 20 hours a week during regular term time, and full time during long breaks such as summer holidays. You will need a social insurance number to work off campus. Find out more on the IRCC website.
  • Working as a co-op student or intern. If work experience or an internship is part of your college program, you will need a work permit for this. To obtain a work permit, you must have a valid study permit, and the work must be essential to your study program. You may not be eligible for a work permit if you study English or French as a second language. You can submit an application through the IRCC website.


Staying in Canada after you Graduate

To stay in Canada, you must apply for a post-graduation work permit as part of the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP). In order to be eligible for this you must have participated in a post-secondary course that lasted for at least 8 months. Post-graduate work permits can only be issued for the length of your study program, and for a maximum of three years.

The PGWPP is a great way to gain valuable work experience in Canada, which can then be used as experience when applying for the Canadian Experience Class program (which allows holders to stay permanently in Canada). For more information on the Canadian Experience Class, see our Skilled Worker section.

Please visit our Studying section for more information on studying in Canada.



Canada is an attractive place to do business, due to its strong economy, high quality of life and low tax and business costs. If you are a business person or entrepreneur planning to start up a company or be self-employed in Canada, you may be eligible for a Canadian visa. There are two main visa programs for those interested – the Start-Up Visa Program and the Self-Employed Persons Program.


Start-Up Visa

The Start-Up Visa is a unique program which allows immigrant entrepreneurs with business ideas to immigrate to Canada, as long as they have support from a designated Canadian organization. This organization usually takes the form of a venture capital or angel investor group. Once they have agreed to support your start-up, they must provide you with a letter of support, which you will include in your visa application.

You must also show proof in your application that you are able to communicate in English or French, and that you have sufficient funds to support yourself in Canada. Once you have fulfilled the criteria, you can then download the application form from the Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website. You can use the official document checklist to ensure you have not forgotten anything for your application. For more information, see the IRCC website.


Self-Employed Persons Program

This program intends to attract people who intend to be self-employed in Canada. However, the criteria to take part in this program are quite specific. The requirements are as follows:

  • The applicant must intend to either make a significant contribution to the cultural or athletic life of Canada, or intend to buy and manage a farm in Canada.
  • The applicant must have relevant experience in cultural activities or athletics, or in managing a farm.

The applicant will also be assessed on education, age, language abilities and adaptability, as well as medical and background checks. To apply, download the application form from the IRCC website. If your application is successful, you will be issued with a permanent residence visa. To find out more about the Self-Employed Persons Program, see the IRCC website



Canada’s Working Holiday Visa is part of the International Exchange Canada (IEC) program, and allows young individuals the opportunity to travel and work in Canada for a period of up to 2 years. Taking part in a Working Holiday is a fantastic way to see Canada while earning some money, and there is no obligation to have a job lined up in advance. It’s no wonder it is such a popular program worldwide.



The majority of European countries participate in the program, as well as countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and more. If you are unsure if your country of citizenship participates, you can check the handy tool on the Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website.

Applicants generally have to be between 18 and 30, but again this depends on the country you are applying from.  Some countries have a limit of 35 years of age.

Eligibility requirements vary and are specific to each country, so it’s best to check the IRCC website if you are unsure.


How to Apply

There are two ways to apply for Canada’s Working Holiday program. You can either apply directly to the Canadian government, or you can use the services of a recognized organization.  To find out how to apply directly, see our section on ‘What is the IEC?’.  For further information on applying for IEC, see the IRCC website



Since 1 January 2015, Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is now using a new electronic system called Express Entry, which will be used to manage permanent residence applications under the following skilled worker programs:

  • Federal Skilled Worker
  • Federal Skilled Trades
  • Canadian Experience Class
  • Provincial Nominee Program

To find out more about these programs, see our Skilled Worker section.


How does it work? 

A potential candidate who is interested must first complete an online Express Entry profile, where they will provide information on their education, skills, work experience, and so on.  Candidates will then be placed in a pool of other candidates, and the candidates who are the most qualified (with the best chances of economic success) and those with qualified offers of employment will be invited to apply for permanent residence. Candidates will be selected using a points-based Comprehensive Ranking System.

If a candidate is selected and does not have a qualifying job offer, they must register with the Government of Canada’s Job Bank, where they can connect with eligible Canadian employers.

Those who are selected to apply for permanent residence must submit an electronic application within 60 days, through one of the four immigration programs mentioned above. Immigration, Refugees and  Citizenship Canada intend to process the majority of applications within six months.

If you do not get selected the first time you apply, you will have the chance to apply again 12 months later, and so on.  There will also be no cap on applications, unlike previous programs.

To find out more about Express Entry, see the IRCC website.



The province of Quebec selects its own skilled workers, and therefore does not use this system. If you plan to live in Quebec, please see the IRCC website for information. 



If you are a temporary foreign worker moving to Canada, it’s likely your employer will need to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment, otherwise known as an LMIA.  An LMIA (formerly called a Labour Market Opinion or LMO) is an assessment from Economic and Social Development Canada (ESDC) which shows whether Canadians are available to take up a job, or if there is a need for a foreign worker. The majority of foreign workers will need an LMIA to take up employment in Canada.

It is up to your potential employer to apply for an LMIA, and if approved, they can then pass it on to you. If the position is specialised and highly skilled, it is more likely your LMIA will be approved.

When an employer applies, they must provide information on how many Canadians were considered for the job, plus detailed reasons why no Canadian was hired, before ESDC will grant an LMIA.


How long does it take to obtain an LMIA?

The ESDC aims to process LMIA applications within 10 days, depending on the application. For example skilled trades in high demand and jobs for a short duration (less than 120 days) will most likely be processed within 10 days. Other types of applications will take longer.

There are LMIA processing centres in every province in Canada.


What happens after you obtain an LMIA?

Once you have received an LMIA from the ESDC, you must then apply for a work permit from the Canadian Government, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).  Once IRCC is satisfied that the worker fulfils all the immigration and work requirements, they will be granted a work permit for Canada.

Keep in mind that in June 2014, it was announced that work permits for foreign workers who require an LMIA will only be granted for a period of 1 year for all low-wage occupations.



Some foreign workers are exempt from needing an LMIA.  Workers who may be granted an exemption include:

  • Workers from countries with international agreements that facilitate the entry of foreign workers, e.g. the North American Free Trade Agreement
  • Entrepreneurs/Self Employed Workers who come to Canada to start or run a business
  • Intra-Company Transferees
  • International Exchange Programmes (such as the Working Holiday Visa)
  • Dependents of Foreign Workers
  • Religious Workers
  • Academics

It’s important to note that being exempt from an LMIA does not mean the worker is exempt from needing a work permit.

For more information on the Temporary Foreign Worker Visa and obtaining an LMIA, take a look at the Employment and Social Development Canada website



 The IEC, or International Exchange Canada, is a program which allows young people to work and travel around Canada, due to bilateral agreements with countries throughout the world.

There are three main programs that are part of IEC – Working Holiday, Young Professional and International Co-op Internship.

  • Working Holiday: The Working Holiday program allows travellers to work and travel temporarily in Canada. This program is a great option for someone who wants to see Canada while earning some money along the way.  For more info, see our ‘Working Holiday’ section.
  • Young Professional: This program provides professional Canadian work experience and allows people to learn new ways of doing business, experience another country and language, increase their career opportunities and ultimately compete in the global economy.
  • International Co-op Internship: This program is aimed towards students who wish to complete an internship in Canada, as part of their studies. The internship should be in their field of study.

Although Canada has IEC agreements with many countries – including most of Europe – it’s best to check if your country of citizenship allows you to take part in the IEC. Eligibility requirements vary and are specific to each country. You can check if you and your country are eligible on Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

There is a limited amount of IEC visas available per country, and applicants are selected randomly through a pool system. 


How to Apply

The process for applying for an IEC visa is as follows:

  1. Determine your eligibility – use the Come to Canada tool on the IRCC website.
  2. If eligible, you will be able to set up your MyCIC account online and subsequently your IEC profile.
  3. Once complete, submit your IEC profile. Your application will be submitted into a pool.
  4. IRCC will regularly issue invitations to candidates in the pools. If you are issued an invitation to apply, you will have 10 days to accept the invitation.
  5. If you accept the invitation, you will have 20 days to submit complete, pay and submit your work permit application.
  6. If your application is successful, you will receive a letter of introduction (LOI) in your MyCIC account, also called a Port of Entry (POE) Introduction Letter. This letter must be presented to immigration authorities in Canada upon arrival in the country. 

As the process to apply for IEC can be time-consuming and at times complicated, it is very common for individuals to use a recognized organization to assist them with their application.

For more information on applying for IEC, see the IRCC website



The PNP, or Provincial Nominee Program, is a program which allows the provinces and territories of Canada to nominate individuals for permanent residence, if they are planning on settling in that particular province or territory.



It is compulsory to take a language test in order to be eligible for the Provincial Nominee Program, if you are applying:

  • For a semi- or low skilled job
  • Under Express Entry for a:
    • Managerial Job
    • Professional Job
    • Technical Job and Skilled Trade

It is important to reach the minimum required standard of English or French. Language test results are generally valid for two years from the day you take the test.


How to apply

There are generally two steps to the Provincial Nominee process. Firstly, you must apply to the province or territory you wish to move to, and they will review your application and assess their skill shortages, immigration needs etc. The criteria can change frequently, so check the province’s government website before applying.

If your application is successful and you have received your provincial nomination certificate, you must then apply to IRCC for permanent residence. You will have to pass a medical and background check as part of this process.

 For more information on the Provincial Nominee Program, take a look at the IRCC website. For a list of provincial governments, go to our ‘Immigration Advice’ section. 


Finding the right advice on immigration can be difficult and time consuming. We hope you have found Newcomers Canada useful, but for further information you might find the following sources of interest. 

Canadian Federal, Provincial and Territory Websites

If you are considering using an Immigration Consultant, please refer to the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council website. 



Canada has two official languages: English and French. English is the most commonly spoken language in the majority of provinces and territories. Outside Quebec, 82 percent of Canadians speak English.

French is the main language spoken in Quebec and in some areas in Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba. In addition, there are French-speaking communities in most other parts of Canada. Quebec also has a large minority of English-speaking residents.

All official federal government services, publications and documents are available in both English and French.


The importance of language skills

Good English or French language skills are very important to help you settle in Canada. You may choose to focus on learning or improving either English or French. This will likely depend on which of the two languages most people speak in the area where you live.

Strong English or French language skills are important for many reasons, such as:

  • Obtaining a job that matches your skills and experience;
  • Obtaining post-secondary education or training;
  • Accessing services;  
  • Helping your children with school work;
  • Meeting and interacting with people; and
  • Passing the language requirement for citizenship.


Language proficiency tests and certificates

There are some cases in which you may need (or want) to provide proof of your level of proficiency in either English or French (for example, when you apply for a visa, a job or entry into a university or college). In such cases, you should always check what type of proof is required. However, several language tests are widely recognized. They provide a certificate of language proficiency that can be used in a variety of situations. These tests and certificates are offered by independent organizations, not the Government of Canada. You can take these tests at locations across the country.

These are some of the most widely recognized English language tests and certificates:

These are some of the most widely recognized French language tests and certificates:

You can also get information on these tests and the certificates they provide from some government language assessment centres or from private language schools.

Source: Welcome to Canada: What you should know

www.cic.gc.caImmigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2013.


Helpful Links

CIC Website
IRCC Website
ESDC Website

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