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This article is your guide to alternative immigration options for when you're hoping to use the IEC Working Holiday to come to Canada in life decides otherwise.

Each year, tens of thousands of youth from around the world travel to Canada to work and travel using International Experience Canada (IEC), a work permit option that includes the popular Working Holiday program. For years, IEC Working Holidays have provided a reliable and simple pathway for youth from participating countries to come to Canada. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused IEC and the Working Holiday program to come grinding to a halt.

As such, many people have been asking us: What are my options to come to Canada other than the IEC Working Holiday?

Even though it seems now that we’ve adapted to a life with COVID (we made it!), we think this is still a relevant question that deserves an answer. So here it is.

Quick reminder on what happened during the pandemic

In March 2020, IEC was paused due to COVID-19: no invitations were issued in regular IEC invitation rounds after that date. Then, after months of being paused, the 2020 IEC season officially closed in November 2020 for the remainder of the year.

The constant variations in the situation during the pandemic made it hard for Canada to provide precise information about when things would return to normal for the IEC program. Candidates were left in the dark for a long time until widespread vaccination efforts and decreasing case numbers allowed the Canadian government to ease some travel restrictions. Eventually, IRCC shared the relieving news that the 2022 IEC season would reopen on January 13th of the year.

These were not fun times… and we all hope we won’t experience something similar anytime soon. But in case we do, let us learn from this and summarize the options available to Working Holiday candidates.

What are the alternatives to the IEC Working Holiday visa for travellers looking to come to Canada

#1 — Wait for IEC to be open. Yes, we’re serious.

Okay, so this probably isn’t the answer you were looking for, but before we get into your alternative immigration options, we wanted to stress the fact that the IEC Working Holiday program is relatively simple and straightforward when compared to Canada’s other immigration options.

The Working Holiday program doesn’t require a job offer, it doesn’t have any complicated ranking system, and the processing times are fast.

If you can handle waiting it out, it’s likely to be your easiest option.

One thing to keep in mind is that even when IEC opens, there are quotas for each country and invitations are issued through a randomized system. You may want to refer to the quota history for the previous season to get a sense of the quotas available to each country — although quotas could change next season.

If you think you can hang on and wait until then, great! If not, let’s really dive into your alternatives.

More info: Get the full list of IEC-eligible countries.

#2 — Get a Labour Market Impact Assessment-based (LMIA-based) work permit

There are many different types of Canadian work permits. But, aside from IEC, one of the other popular options for people residing outside Canada, is a Labour Market Impact Assessment-based (LMIA-based) work permit.

An LMIA-based work permit requires that you land a job from a Canadian employer. But, this can’t just be any job offer — the job offer must be supported by a document called a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment, or LMIA.

An LMIA is a document that your employer must obtain (you can’t get it yourself) that proves that they attempted to hire someone in Canada, but were unable to do so, hence why they are hiring a foreign national.

LMIAs are complicated documents for Canadian employers to get. They have to:

  • Prove they posted their job in different locations,
  • Submit a detailed application,
  • And they usually have to pay a CAD$1,000 processing fee.

For all of these reasons, most Canadian employers prefer to hire people who already have the legal authorization to work in Canada — it just saves them a lot of hassle.

All that said, tens of thousands of positive LMIAs are issued every year, so it’s possible. It’s just challenging.

If you can get a job offer supported by a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment, you can use this to apply for a closed work permit — authorizing you to come to Canada and work for that specific employer. Learn more about LMIA-based work permits here.

#3 — Apply directly for permanent resident status

Canada has several immigration pathways that allow you to apply directly for permanent resident status, or PR.

Getting PR means that you can live in Canada for as long as you want, working for any employer in any location, plus you get access to Canada’s healthcare system and social services. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

But, it’s extremely competitive and processing times are long.

The Federal Skilled Worker program (FSW), a program within Canada’s Express Entry immigration system, enables skilled workers to apply directly for permanent resident status, without ever needing to have set foot in Canada before. The downside? Express Entry uses a complex points-based system to rank interested candidates based on their age, work experience, language skills, level of education, and more. Only the candidates with the highest scores are invited to apply.

There are other Canadian immigration programs that allow you to apply directly for permanent resident status, including Provincial Nominee Programs (you can sort through more than 80 PNP streams here) and Quebec immigration. However, these are equally as complex as Express Entry, and often similarly competitive.

Family sponsorship could also be an option, although you’d have to already be in a marriage or common-law relationship with a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.


#4 — Come to Canada as an international student.

Coming to Canada as an international student is one of the few reliable ways to enter Canada, even during exceptional circumstances such as COVID-19. But becoming an international student is a big commitment. You must gain admission to a school, apply for a study permit, and pay for tuition and associated fees.

Studying in Canada opens a lot of doors in Canada. Most international students are eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit after graduating from a Canadian school, and there are many Canadian immigration programs targeted toward people with Canadian education and work experience.

So, it’s a big commitment, but it can have a big payoff. The choice is up to you!

#5 — Come to Canada as a visitor (if you can)

The last option we wanted to mention is coming to Canada as a visitor. Normally, this would be high up on our list, but the reason we left this one until the end is because back in pandemic times, most people couldn’t come to Canada as visitors. Canada’s borders remained closed to the vast majority of foreign nationals, and unless you met one of the handful of exemptions to travel restrictions, like having a close family member in Canada, you weren’t able to pursue this option.

About the author

Hugo O’Doherty has over a decade of experience and research in Canadian immigration, making him a recognized authority on immigrant integration and adaptation. His personal and professional experience with immigration made him an expert on the practical aspects of successfully moving to and settling in Canada.