First of all, congratulations on being approved for a working holiday visa! A working holiday in Canada is a wonderful way to experience all that Canada has to offer. This pathway is available through the International Experience Canada (IEC) program that Canada operates with many participating countries.
Being able to work in Canada through an IEC Working Holiday Visa unfolds in stages, and each stage involves various steps. You’ve been through many of these already. First, you had to enter your profile in the IEC pool, meet the requirements and receive an invitation to apply. That was the first exciting stage – to receive an invitation, especially with the caps for each country! Next, you had to compile your required documents, submit the application, pay the participation fee and wait anxiously for a couple of months for the decision. Finally, a positive decision arrived!
Now you are at the most crucial stage – booking your flight and preparing to come to Canada. It is important to realize that this stage also has its own rules and requirements to be followed carefully to ensure the rest of the process goes smoothly as well. There are still a few pitfalls to avoid, so being aware of what to expect and proper preparation is the key.
In this article we discuss what happens at the Canadian border and how IEC participants can best prepare for a successful entry.
Before Travelling to Canada for your International Experience Canada (IEC) Working Holiday Visa
You will see that your letter of approval is valid for a certain period, usually 12 months – you must arrive in Canada within that time. The approval letter is sometimes called the Letter of Introduction or the Port of Entry letter. This letter should also confirm that your eTA (electronic Travel Authorization) has been issued. Most IEC applicants will need an eTA to board a plane to Canada, and the eTA should have been automatically approved when the IEC was approved. (Note, however, that your eTA is linked to your passport, so you need to travel to Canada with the same passport you used to apply for the work permit).
IEC Documents Checklist at the Border
Although your documents were already examined by the visa officer before you were approved, the border officer has the right to examine them again. Remember, it is the border officer’s decision to issue the work permit, so you want to have these documents ready for examination and present evidence of your eligibility as the officer may request.
Of course, a valid IEC approval letter is the most essential document to present to the officer. Your passport is also necessary and must be valid for the whole period of your intended stay.
Some other documents are also needed to ensure the process goes smoothly. Make sure you bring the following documents with you, preferably in paper copies as well as electronic form:
1. Documents used to obtain the approval letter
You should bring copies of any documents you used to obtain the IEC approval such as proof of residency, your resume and any police certificates. In fact, for any documents that you ordered especially for the IEC process (e.g. a police certificate), you can bring the original. For other documents a paper copy is fine. It is safest to have both a paper copy and electronic copy of your documents in case for any reason you do not have access to one of them when needed. Bring your paper copies in your carry-on bag rather than checked luggage.
2. Health insurance coverage
You will need proof of health insurance coverage for the entire length of your stay in Canada. If your insurance is for a shorter period, your work permit will only be issued for that shorter time. In this situation, you are not guaranteed to be able to obtain any extension.
Some applicants assume they can extend their work permit in Canada once they buy another year of insurance. But this is not the case. IEC work permits are not supposed to be extended if the reason they were issued for a shorter duration was because the medical insurance was not valid for the entire stay. This is the official policy of IRCC (immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada), and we don’t recommend that you take any chances. Buy the proper medical insurance! If an insurance company will not issue a two-year health insurance policy, then contact other insurers or try to purchase two consecutive one-year policies.
I do want to mention that we have seen cases where clients’ IEC permits were extended inside Canada by providing additional medical insurance. Therefore, it is definitely worth applying for an extension if you find yourself in this situation. But you need to understand that it is considered a pleasant surprise to get an extended work permit in this situation, not your right to do so.
3. An immigration medical exam
An open work permit generally allows you to work for a Canadian employer in any location or workplace in the country However, there is an exception for work in the fields of agriculture, health care and education, including day care and live-in care giving – where you must first pass a medical exam to protect the health of Canadians. If you plan to work in these fields, it is important to take the immigration medical exam in advance through a panel physician in your own country and bring the e-medical paper with you to present to the border officer. This enables the officer to issue a work permit that allows you to work in any field, without restriction. Otherwise, your work permit will not allow you to work in healthcare, education, or agriculture. It is possible to change the permit by getting a medical exam in Canada, but this will cause significant delays before you can start to work.
4. Proof of funds
The border officer will ask you for proof of funds to cover initial expenses in Canada, so you should be prepared.
You must present a statement of your bank account issued no more than 1 week before your departure for Canada. It can be an online statement – but ensure that it shows your name and the details of where your funds are located. It must clearly show that you have the financial resources to support yourself for the first 3 months of your stay in Canada (the equivalent of CAD $2,500). You should ensure you have a bit more in case the exchange rate changed recently affecting your funds. You could be denied a work permit if you are a few dollars short.
Be careful about travelling with an excess of funds, as anyone who arrives in Canada with the equivalent of CAD $10,000 or more must declare this to a border officer. It may be in the form of cash, travellers cheques or any other liquid assets. The failure to declare it is a serious offence and CBSA will take away all of your money.
5. A departure ticket OR sufficient funds to purchase a ticket
If you plan to be in Canada for the whole duration of your work permit, a return ticket may not be practical; you do not need to purchase a round trip ticket upfront. However, the border officer needs to be satisfied you have sufficient funds to return home after your authorized stay. There are two ways to prove this. First, you can prove you have the funds in your bank account over and above CAD $2500 for a one-way ticket home; or, if you know you will be making a trip home (or to some other country) during your Canadian stay, you can purchase that ticket before your arrival and present it as proof of the ability to leave Canada.
Arriving in Canada and the IEC Work Permit Process
Your letter authorizes you to travel to Canada and request a work permit upon arrival. The letter itself is not the work permit – this is an important distinction. Nor does the letter guarantee a work permit will be issued.
The border officer alone decides whether to issue the work permit, after being satisfied that you meet the requirements from your country of nationality and you are admissible. Once they are satisfied, they will print out the work permit for you.
You can come to any port of entry in Canada for this purpose. It is usually an airport, but it could be a land border if you are already in North America.
The immigration process takes places at the first port of entry you reach in Canada. If you are not flying directly to your final destination in Canada, it is important to ensure you have enough time between connecting flights to get your work permit. Three hours is recommended. The process itself will only take a few minutes, but anything can happen – for example, there might be a long line-up that day!
When you enter Canada, tell the border officer you are seeking a work permit and they will refer you to a side office to examine your documents and confirm things in their computer system. If all is in order, the officer will print out your open work permit then. Your authorization to work will start that day and will be valid for two years (unless your country has a different time frame for working holiday visas).
Verifying Your Working Holiday Permit at the Airport
Ensure you check your work permit carefully before finishing with the border services agent. You are checking to confirm everything is correct – the spelling of your name, your birth date, the start and end dates of your work authorization. Human error is possible, and getting the work permit changed at a later date is very difficult. For example, we have unfortunately seen cases where a work permit was issued with the end date of the work permit the same as the start date. This person is not authorized to work until they get it changed – and that can take a lot of time and effort.
If you believe there may be a mistake on your work permit, be sure to tell the officer right away so that it can be corrected before you leave the office.
Obtaining Your Social Insurance Number (SIN) in Canada
Once you have your work permit, you will need to apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN) which is required for all workers in Canada. It is free to obtain. Every employer will ask you for this number so they can make the proper deductions for tax purposes. There is now a desk for SIN applications at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, so if you obtain your work permit there, you can likely get your SIN at the same time. Otherwise, you can visit the nearest Service Canada office to apply in person, and a number will be issued to you immediately.
You can also apply for a SIN online at https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/sin/apply.html but it takes up to 20 days to receive it when you apply online. You are allowed to start work in Canada without your SIN, but you will not get paid until you can provide it, as it is used to track your remittances to the Canada Revenue Agency.
IEC Approval for Applicants Already in Canada
Some IEC applicants apply and get approved when they are already in Canada with some other immigration status. If you are in Canada with lawful immigration status, you can attend at a land border to have your work permit issued. This requires ‘flagpoling’ at the Canada – US border.
If you are from a country that needs a US visa, it is a good idea to obtain that first, but it’s not always practical. If you do not require a visa to enter the US, you will still need an eSTA, even at a land border. Ensure that you apply for your eSTA well in advance of your planned trip to the land border.
If you have lawful status in Canada but do not have the necessary USA visa or eSTA, you will be refused entry to the USA, fingerprinted and turned around to meet with the Canadian side to apply for your work permit. The Canadian border officer will likely still issue your work permit, but this is considered a US entry refusal. It must be declared and explained on any future applications to Canada as our forms ask if you have ever been refused admission to any country.
Your situation is much more complicated if you are not in status in Canada when you are approved for an IEC work permit and want to flagpole. This is not advisable. The Canadian border officials will likely find you are in violation of Canadian immigration rules and issue an exclusion order requiring you to leave Canada. The work permit will not be issued. CBSA also has the right to search through your phone and electronic devices to see what you have been doing in Canada– and if you have been working without authorization, that is a further violation.
If you are out of status in Canada but receive an IEC work permit approval, the best advice is to leave the country and return via air, as leaving Canada will correct your immigration status immediately.
Leaving Canada on an IEC Work Permit
You might notice that your work permit says: “This does not authorize re-entry”. Every work permit states this. This phrase does not prevent you from leaving Canada and returning during the period of your work permit. It simply means the work permit itself is not a guarantee of re-entry, as a border officer will still examine you. For example, if you are found with illegal drugs on your person or you arrive with only 2 days left on your work permit, you will likely not be permitted to re-enter even though you have a valid work permit. But under normal circumstances, where your work permit still has time left and there is no other reason to refuse you, you would most likely be allowed to re-enter to complete your work period.
Extending Your Stay in Canada Beyond IEC
It is also important to know there are other categories of International Experience Canada besides the Working Holiday Visa. Generally, these can be accessed after a Working Holiday if you meet the eligibility requirements and would like to stay longer. Most countries have a stream that allows young people to work for a further period for a specific employer if the employer offers them a job in their field of study. This is called the “Young Professionals” category and may be an excellent opportunity for professional development. Only a signed job offer letter from the employer is needed, not an LMIA.
Many countries also have an international co-op program for those still enrolled at a post-secondary institution in their home country. For all International Experience Canada streams, the upper age limit depends on the applicant’s country.
Of course, there are a myriad of other pathways for working or studying in Canada that may be feasible for you. All of your options can be explored with a professional immigration adviser if you wish to stay in Canada longer.
How to Obtain PR as a Working Holiday Permit Holder
You will probably find that time passes very quickly when you are in Canada on your IEC work permit! Many foreign youth like to keep open the possibility of staying beyond their working holiday time and possibly even apply for permanent residence. If this is you, it is best to meet with an immigration professional early in the process, even before you start looking for a job. Indeed, it possible to have an online consultation even before you come to Canada. This is because the Canadian province where you settle, and the type of job you accept, can both be very relevant to qualifying for Permanent Residence in the future. Your open work permit gives you almost unlimited options with Canadian employers, but the decisions you make during your first few days in Canada can make a huge difference in being able to stay or having to leave once your initial work permit is finished. Our best advice is – plan ahead!
At The Way Immigration, we are very familiar with the International Experience Canada (IEC) program including the Working Holiday Visa and Young Professionals category. We have helped hundreds of IEC participants over the years access this and the other bilateral youth mobility agreements that Canada has with certain countries, which terms can vary considerably. We would be pleased to help you with your IEC application to ensure you can maximize this unique opportunity to achieve your long term goals. We can also explore other temporary and permanent options if IEC is not feasible for you. Contact one of our professionals for a consultation today!