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Couples and groups wishing to apply for an International Experience Canada (IEC) work permit may have mixed success under the application procedure that's used to issue permits.

The 2024 IEC season is open as of December 11, 2023. The first invitation rounds have taken place during the week of January 8, 2024. Check if you’re eligible for IEC by taking our free Canadian Immigration Quiz.

This is because eligible candidates are invited at random, which means you may get an invitation but your spouse or partner does not, or vice versa. One of you may be kept waiting months to receive an invitation — or may not receive one at all.

Moreover, you might be eligible for IEC but your spouse or partner may not be, on account of their age, citizenship, or previous participation. Nonetheless, there may be a way for you both to live and work in Canada.

This page outlines some potential ways to get around this obstacle so that you can enjoy Canada together. It will also cover situations where a group of friends wishes to move to Canada together through the IEC program.

One IEC candidate receives an invitation, the spouse or partner remains in the IEC pool OR is not eligible for IEC

If one half of a couple gets an IEC invitation but the other does not, or can not, get an invitation, here are some pointers.

Get in the pool early

Hopefully it’s not too late to get this news as you read this, but in any case, it’s important to get into the IEC pool or pools you may be eligible to enter as soon as possible, preferably within the opening weeks or days of the IEC season, which usually opens around late November or December for the following year.

Doing so exposes you to more invitation rounds at a time when there may be fewer people in the pool. This means that when people are invited at random, there is a greater chance that your name will be called.

Of course, this advice extends only to couples made up of two people who are both eligible to move to Canada through the IEC program. The advice directly below, however, is appropriate for these couples plus couples made up of one person who is eligible for IEC, and one who is not.

Open work permits for spouses and partners of IEC participants

IEC hopefuls should take note that the spouse or common-law partner of an IEC participant may obtain a spousal open work permit, if the IEC participant holds an open work permit (i.e. if the IEC participant has been accepted under the Working Holiday category). A common-law relationship refers to a couple living in a relationship (opposite- or same-sex) continuously for a period of at least one year.

In order for the spouse or partner of an IEC participant to obtain an open work permit, the participant must be employed in Canada. As of January 30th 2023, the IEC participant may have employment in any in a occupation (TEER level 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5) and must submit documentation attesting to this as part of their spouse or partner’s application.

If the IEC Working Holiday participant obtains employment upon arrival, the spouse or partner may join them in Canada, no invitation required. In such a scenario, the spouse or partner of the IEC participant does not even have to be eligible under the IEC; for example, he or she could be overage for his or her country’s pool(s), or not hold citizenship of a country with which Canada has a reciprocal agreement under the IEC, or have previously participated in the program and thereby no longer be eligible.

One significant caveat

If you or your spouse or partner plans on pursuing this route to getting an open work permit, note that the IEC participant must move to Canada and be working in Canada before his or her spouse or partner follows along. In the event both parties wish to land together the IEC participant must carry with them proof that they have a job offer in Canada. It will then be at the discretion of the officer at the border whether the spouse will be issued a permit. If not, the spouse will need to apply once the IEC participant has started employment.

Getting a work permit this way is doable, but requires a more intricate knowledge of the Canada’s immigration and employment landscape than many other types of applications. For this reason, it may be a good idea to book a consultation with an experienced Canadian immigration consultant before applying. You can book a consultation right here.

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At least one IEC candidate receives an invitation, but their friend remains in the IEC pool

IEC candidates are invited to apply at random, in small batches over the course of the year. When asked what options a group of friends wishing to come to Canada together through the IEC program might have, a spokesperson from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) explained: “Each participant must submit their candidate profile based on their own merit. There is no mechanism to apply to the pool as a group . . . Invitations to apply will be offered throughout the year and will spread out that way.”

This raises the very really possibility of groups of friends being kept waiting for months to learn if they’ve all been successful in their application for an IEC visa. So then, how can you get around this?

Candidates advised to enter the IEC pool(s) early

Anyone interested in applying for an IEC work permit is advised to create their profile and enter the pool or pools they may be eligible for as early as possible.

An IRCC spokesperson explained that if a round opens when there is a low number of candidates in the pool, then all will receive an ITA if supply exceeds demand. Applying early exposes you to more rounds, and may increase your chance of success. The Moving2Canada IEC News Hub, updated weekly using official IRCC data, outlines candidates’ chances of being invited in an upcoming round, from ‘Very Low’ to ‘Excellent’. Getting your profile into the pool earlier increases your chances of being eligible for selection when your chances are somewhere between ‘Good’ and ‘Excellent’, rather than ‘Very Low’ to ‘Fair’.

Still waiting on an invitation? Get a job!

If someone in your group of friends isn’t being invited, simply because of the luck of the draw, he or she may be eligible through the IEC Young Professionals category (though this also depends on country of citizenship). This category is less well known than the Working Holiday, and requires a job offer.

Further help with your IEC visa application

iec visa

Please explore our many resources to help you plan your application. Research is crucial as you plan for success in Canada during your IEC visa.

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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.