The TFWP is a program operated by the federal government that allows Canadian employers to hire foreign nationals to fill temporary labour and skill shortages when Canadian residents aren’t available to do the job.

The program itself is a cluster of four different work programs that were created at different times and were lumped under one heading because they have core features in common.

Until very recently, the four programs (described below and pictured right) made up the TFWP. These categories have changed in 2015. Please click here to review the changes to the TFWP.

  • Live in Caregivers -These workers are mostly women who come to Canada to take care of young children, people with special needs, and the elderly. Up until very recently they had to live in the home with their employer, and after two years, had a stable path to permanent residency.

  • Seasonal Agricultural Workers – Persons from specific countries who come to Canada under a bilateral agreement to help with seasonal farming needs, like harvest or planting. This program is quite unique as compared to other streams. Workers can only stay in Canada for a maximum of 8 months and then must leave Canada. Many of the recent amendments to the TFWP do not apply to workers under this heading.

  • Skilled workers – Skilled Workers have been part of the TFWP since 1973. This stream was meant to accommodate international corporate transfers and labour needs in professions with specialized skill sets. Historically, the program was accessed by entertainers, academics, and international corporation transferees. 

  • Low Skilled workers – Workers brought in as a last resort to fill labour shortages in lower skilled jobs that Canadians do not want, or were not available to fill.

All TFWs have certain key features in common:

  1. Their permits are “closed” meaning that the TFW can only work for the employer listed on their work permit. While they can technically quit their job, they cannot work for another employer without having a separate work permit issued with the new employer’s name. In practice, this restriction makes TFWs very vulnerable to exploitation, because they are very unlikely to quit their job even when working conditions are poor or pay is unfair.

  2. Their work permits have a start and end date. Near the end of the date on the permit, TFWs can apply for a subsequent work permit. Some federal government initiatives have, in the past, imposed limits on the number of times low wage TFWs can get new work permits.

  3. Their employers have received government approval to bring in foreign workers. If an employer wants to hire a TFW, they must pass a labour market test and receive a certificate from Economic Development and Skills Canada. In the past, this certificate was known as a positive Labour Market Opinion (LMO).  This has been replaced with a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Both the LMO and the LMIA are forms that confirm that the employer tried to hire Canadian residents first, and that bringing in a foreign worker would not negatively impact the Canadian economy. Read more about LMIAs here.  

  4. They are brought in because Canadian employers requested them. This stream of immigration is driven by employers. If no one saying they need the TFWs, they don’t come to Canada.

How does the TFWP fit within Canada's Immigration Scheme?

The TFWP is part of Canada's economic immigration policy, pictured right.

The Foreign Worker Program has now been carved into two basic programs:

1.  International Mobility Program –  encompassing those workers who do not need to get Labour Market Impact Assessments in order to get work permits (which are generally “Open Work Permits”). The International Mobility Program includes temporary workers who come to Canada under a trade agreement like NAFTA, youth exchange programs, or spouses of people who come to Canada under study or other work permits.


2.  The Temporary Foreign Worker Program - encompassing workers whose employers must obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment before the worker can apply for a work permit (typically restricted as to employer, job, location).

An employer can find out more about the IMB or the LMIA and its exemptions here and here.

Changes to Immigration

Canada's Permanent  Immigration operates through a series of boxes or streams. If someone wants to immigrate to Canada, they have to satisfy all the criteria in a particular box or stream. 

There are four streams for Economic Immigration in Canada. Three of those streams are operated by the Federal Government: the Federal Skilled Worker Program (includes “Arranged Employment”), Skilled Trade Program and Canadian Experience Class. In order to qualify under those streams, you must qualify as a skilled worker (jobs in that have a code level of O, A or B under the National Occupation Classification). There are quotas for most of these programs.

Applicants apply for these streams using the new online “Express Entry” system.  Basically, Express Entry is a giant job bank that is employer-driven. Applicants fill out various forms and are assigned a number of points (based on factors such as a person's skill set or language ability, for example). Applicants who accumulate enough points are harvested out of the pool of applicants and invited to apply for permanent residency. Alternatively, applicants can be selected out of the pool by specific employers. In other words, the emphasis is on offering immigration opportunity to those with jobs or job offers. 

The only immigration program for low or semi skilled workers is under the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program. This program (highlighted in purple above) allows only limited occupations that qualify as semi-skilled to apply. For this reason, the Provincial Nominee Program is very important to lower skill TFWs.

Please check the following government links for up to date information on the Temporary Foreign Workers Program: