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Spouses and Partners of Intl ESL and FSL Students Can Apply for Open Work Permits

Posted on 27/08/2021

As we’ve explained in previous blogs, international students wishing to apply for a Post-Graduate Work Permit must be enrolled in a program leading to a degree, diploma or certificate. For this reason, ESL (English-as-a-second-language) and FSL (French-as-a-second-language) programs are not eligible programs for international students thinking of applying for a PGWP.

However, spouses/partners of international students can apply for open work permits, even if their partner/spouse is taking an ESL or FSL program of studies. In other words, the spouse who is the international student does not disqualify their spouse from applying for an open work permit if they are taking ESL or FSL courses, even though the student themselves cannot apply for a PGWP. Remember that the spouses/partners applying for the open work permit are not full-time international students themselves, and must have a clean medical examination.

Let’s summarize this rather fine distinction between spouse’s open work permits and post-graduate work permits in the table below:


  PGWP Open Work Permit
International Student A – Enrolled in a Degree, Diploma, or Certificate Program Yes No
Spouse/Partner of international student A – not studying in any program No Yes
International Student B – Enrolled in an ESL or FSL program No No
Spouse/Partner of international student B – not studying in any program No Yes


Here’s why the spouse of an international student taking an ESL or FSL program can apply for an Open Work Permit:

This is based on section 205( c ) section ii of the IRPR (Immigration Refugee Protection Regulations) which reads:

205 A work permit may be issued under section 200 to a foreign national who intends to perform work that

(c) is designated by the Minister as being work that can be performed by a foreign national on the basis of the following criteria, namely,

(ii) limited access to the Canadian labour market is necessary for reasons of public policy relating to the competitiveness of Canada’s academic institutions or economy;

Now, it is important to note that IRCC has issued guidelines for its policies and procedures to IRCC staff on this very issue and they read as follows:



Applicants must provide evidence that they are the spouse or common-law partner of a study permit holder who is a full-time student at either

  • a public post-secondary institution, such as:
    • a college
    • trade/technical school
    • university
    • CEGEP in Quebec
  • a private post-secondary institution that operates under the same rules and regulations as a public post-secondary institution in Quebec
  • a private or public secondary or post-secondary institution (in Quebec) offering qualifying programs of 900 hours or longer leading to a diploma of vocational studies or an attestation of vocational specialization
  • a Canadian private institution authorized by provincial statute to confer degrees (for example, a bachelor’s degree, master’s or doctorate) but only if the student is enrolled in one of the programs of study leading to a degree, as authorized by the province and not in just any program of study offered by the private institution.

Spouses or common-law partners of full-time students are eligible for open or open/restricted work permits, depending on whether a medical examination has been passed. There is no need for an offer of employment before issuing a work permit.

If you read this carefully, you will see that nowhere does it state that ESL and/or FSL programs disqualify the spouse/common-law partner from applying for an Open Work Permit. However, for a PGWP it is explicitly stated that ESL and/or FSL programs are not eligible programs of study for international students wishing to apply for a PGWP.

So, spouses and common-law partners of ESL and/or FSL students are indeed eligible to apply for an Open Work Permit while their spouse/partner studies English or French. Remember, however, that the spouse/partner does have to take or have taken a medical exam, although a previous job offer is not necessary.

Posted in Tips and tagged ESL students, FSL students, Open Work Permit

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