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This article was updated more than 6 months ago. Some information may be outdated.

Important changes and clarifications have been made to the International Experience Canada (IEC) program, through which tens of thousands of foreign youth obtain work permits for Canada annually.

General changes and clarifications

In a program delivery update published on July 10, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) clarified the conditions for the spouse or common-law partner of an IEC participant to obtain an open work permit. A common-law relationship refers to a couple living in a conjugal relationship (opposite or same sex) continuously for a period of at least one year.

The newly-published guidelines state that in order for the spouse or partner of an IEC participant to obtain an open work permit, if the IEC participant holds an open work permit, the IEC participant must submit documentation as part of their spouse or partner’s application outlining how their employment meets the National Occupational Classification (NOC) skill level 0, A or B.

That is to say, the spouse or partner of an IEC participant with an open work permit may themselves obtain an open work permit if the IEC participant is employed in a skilled position, either NOC 0 (management occupations), NOC A (professional occupations that usually require a degree from a university), or NOC B (technical jobs and skilled trades that usually call for a college diploma or training as an apprentice).

IEC open work permits are issued through the Working Holiday category, by far the most popular of the three IEC categories (the other two being the Young Professionals category and the International Co-op category, neither of which result in applicants obtaining an open work permit, as a job offer is required).

Clarification on this issue is likely to be well received by many current and prospective IEC Working Holiday participants, particularly since the program shifted from a first-come, first-served model to an invitation-based model in 2015. This meant that while one half of a couple may receive an invitation in an early draw, the other may be kept waiting months to receive an invitation – or may not receive one at all.

While this remains the case, couples can take into consideration the fact that if the invited person (that is to say, the IEC Working Holiday participant) obtains a skilled job upon arrival, the spouse or partner may join them in Canada, no invitation required.

Moreover, spouses of IEC Working Holiday participants who are not a citizen of a country with which Canada has a reciprocal agreement may still apply for an open work permit. For example, a British IEC Working Holiday participant has a spouse who is from Nigeria; the spouse may still come to Canada on an open work permit as long as the employment conditions, outlined above, are met by the IEC participant.

Other items clarified by IRCC include:

  • Applicants must meet the age requirement applicable to them as defined in the bilateral agreement or arrangement between Canada and their country or territory of citizenship on the date they receive an invitation to apply (ITA).
  • All IEC applicants, regardless of nationality, must undergo an immigration medical examination (IME) if they plan to work in a designated occupation, regardless of the duration of their work permit. IEC applicants must also undergo an IME if they have lived or traveled in certain countries or territories for six months or more and plan to work or reside in Canada for more than six months. Applicants planning to work in specific occupations involving close contact with vulnerable populations must also undergo a medical exam.
  • Applicants who have lived in other countries or territories outside of their permanent residence for six consecutive months or more since their 18th birthday must provide a police certificate for each of those countries or territories. The six-month period is must be consecutive, and not cumulative.

Country-specific changes

There was good news for citizens of Austria wishing to come to Canada under the IEC, with the addition of a Working Holiday category to complement the Young Professionals and International Co-op categories that were already available to Austrians. The age requirement for Austrians is 18 to 30 for Working Holiday, but 18 to 35 for both Young Professionals and International Co-op. All IEC work permits issued to Austrians are issued for up to 12 months, and repeated participation is allowed, though not within the same category.

IEC participants from Chile can now enjoy repeat participations across any of the three categories, and repeat participation within the same category is permitted. Consequently, a Chilean IEC Working Holiday participant will be able to work in Canada on an open work permit for 12 months, and then apply under the same category to work in Canada for a further 12 months. Alternatively, Chilean participants may arrive under one IEC category and then switch to another.

Prospective IEC participants from Japan, Netherlands, and Sweden should take note that they now must be a resident of their respective country at the time of application.

IRCC guidelines state: ‘To determine residency, candidates only need to provide an address in their country of citizenship. This could be either the mailing or residential address.’

About the IEC program

IEC supports Canada’s economic and cultural interests by administering reciprocal agreements and arrangements with 33 countries and territories. Agreements and arrangements are open to Canadian and foreign youth aged 18 to 35. The reciprocal nature of these agreements and arrangements qualifies foreign youth for a Labour Market Impact Assessment-exempt (LMIA) work permit that is either employer-specific, as in the case of Young Professionals and International Co-op participants, or, in the case of the Working Holiday category, for an open work permit.

IEC also facilitates youth mobility opportunities through travel and work service providers recognized by the program, known as recognized organizations. Interested persons who are not a citizen of one of the 33 countries with which Canada currently has a reciprocal agreement may be able to participate in the IEC program through a recognized organization.

Many IEC participants wish to remain in Canada beyond the validity of their work permit. Fortunately, Canada provides a range of pathways to permanent residence, including Express Entry and the Provincial Nominee Programs.

IEC resources

We offer a wide range of IEC-related resources to help you make a success of your time in Canada:

About the author

Hugo O'Doherty profile picture

Hugo O'Doherty

Canadian Immigration & Integration Specialist
Hugo O’Doherty has over a decade of experience and research in Canadian immigration, establishing him as a recognized authority on immigrant integration and adaptation. His personal and professional experiences with immigration have made him an expert on the practical aspects of successfully moving to and settling in Canada.
Read more about Hugo O'Doherty
Citation "Canada makes key changes and clarifications to IEC program." Moving2Canada. . Copy for Citation


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