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Study: Temporary foreign workers in the Canadian labour force: Open versus employer-specific work permits

Released: 2019-11-18

Temporary residents with open work permits (OWP) accounted for 1.2% of total T4 earners in Canada in 2016 compared with 0.5% a decade earlier. This is a larger increase than among those with employer-specific work permits (ESWP), whose share grew from 0.2% to 0.3% for high-skill workers and stayed the same at 0.3% for low-skill workers.

These are among the findings of a new Statistics Canada study that also compares the labour force participation of these three types of temporary foreign workers. OWP holders can work for any employer, while both high-skill and low-skill ESWP holders are restricted to a specific employer who could not find suitable Canadian workers.

This study is based on Statistics Canada's Canadian Employer–Employee Dynamics Database. Specifically, temporary residents with work permits from the Temporary Residents File are matched to their earnings from the T4 Statement of Remuneration Paid File and industry information from the National Accounts Longitudinal Microdata File.

Among those with T4 earnings, OWP holders had the lowest median annual earnings, at $16,700 in 2016. The median annual earnings were $47,300 for high-skill ESWP holders and $19,000 for low-skill ESWP holders.

High-skill ESWP holders were overrepresented in professional, scientific and technical services, and in arts, entertainment and recreation. Low-skill ESWP holders were overrepresented in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.

The industrial distribution of OWP holders was more diverse. They were overrepresented in sectors where young and less-educated Canadian workers are highly concentrated, such as accommodation and food services; administrative and support, waste management and remediation services; and retail trade. They were also overrepresented in industries where university-educated Canadians tend to work, such as professional, scientific and technical services.

  Note to readers

Temporary residents who received T4 earnings in Canada in a given year were counted as having worked in Canada. Canadian employers generally need to complete a T4 slip annually for each employee. Therefore, receiving T4 earnings is an indication of having participated in the labour market as a paid worker. Some work permit holders may have worked in Canada but were not issued a T4 slip; these individuals were not included in this study since they could not be identified in the current data.


The research article "Temporary Foreign Workers in the Canadian Labour Force: Open Versus Employer-specific Work Permits," which is part of the Economic Insights (Catalogue number11-626-X) series, is now available.

Contact information

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