Changing Immigration Status in Canada

Canada offers many immigration options for potential newcomers. But it doesn’t end there! There are also various pathways for changing your immigration status (e.g. from temporary to permanent resident) and, then, eventually, for getting Canadian citizenship. In this article, we will describe the most common situations where one visa may be changed to another in Canada. If you are considering options for changing your visa status, this is a good place to start.
What Are the Legal Visa Statuses in Canada?

Having legal status means that the holder is authorized to enter and stay in Canada on a legal basis. Legal statuses are defined in several Canadian laws: the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Citizenship Act, and the Indian Act. There are four main legal statuses in Canada:

  • Temporary resident status;
  • Permanent resident status;
  • Canadian citizen; and
  • Registered Indian.

For immigration purposes, the most important are the first three:

  1. Temporary resident status allows a person to enter Canada and remain in the country for a specific period. This status includes the following categories of individuals:
    • Visitors;
    • Work Permit holders;
    • Study Permit holders;
    • Refugees who are waiting for approval of their asylum claim.
  2. Permanent resident status is given to citizens of foreign countries who immigrated to Canada under one of the permanent residence (PR) programs. Permanent residents can live in Canada for an unlimited period. They also get most rights and benefits that Canadian citizens receive. However, permanent residents are not allowed to vote, run for political office, or hold some jobs that need a high-level security clearance.
  3. Canadian citizenship is available to permanent residents who have been physically present in Canada as legal residents for at least three out of the past five years (1095 days). Naturalized citizens have additional rights that permanent residents do not.
Pathways to Temporary Resident Status

Temporary resident status is given to foreigners who are legally authorized to enter Canada for temporary purposes such as tourism, study, visiting relatives, temporary work, etc. Only foreign nationals physically in Canada can hold temporary resident status. There are several pathways to get temporary resident status in Canada:

  1. Temporary workers: The most common way of getting temporary resident status is to receive a Work Permit. There are two main programs for persons who want to perform temporary work in Canada:
  2. International students: Canada welcomes foreign students for secondary and tertiary education. Canada has a world-class education system. If you want to become one of almost 400,000 persons who have become Canadian temporary residents via the educational pathway, you should apply for a Study Permit. The Study Permit is usually valid for the duration of the applicant’s study program, plus an additional 90 days.
  3. Visitors: Most visitors need a Visitor Visa (also called a Temporary Resident Visa) to enter Canada and get temporary resident status. Citizens of countries that are not visa-exempt must apply for a Visitor Visa. Such travelers will need a visa to come to Canada regardless of their mode of travel — plane, car, bus, train, or cruise ship. For citizens of visa-exempt countries, only an electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) is necessary to enter Canada, and a visa is not required. You can learn more about the differences between a Visitor Visa and eTA.
  4. Super Visa for parents and grandparents: A Super Visa is an alternative means of sponsorship to bring parents and grandparents of Canadian citizens or permanent residents to Canada. The Super Visa is a 10-year visa that allows multiple entries to Canada for stays of up to 2 years at a time for parents and grandparents. It is a type of multi-entry temporary resident visa. Thus, it grants only temporary resident status for its holders.
Pathways to Permanent Resident Status

Permanent resident status is given to foreigners who are legally authorized to enter Canada and stay here permanently for an unlimited period. Permanent residents are citizens of other countries. However, they enjoy most rights and benefits that Canadian citizens have. There are many pathways to get permanent resident (PR) status in Canada:

  1. Economic immigration programs:
    • Express Entry programs: For qualified individuals, this is the fastest way to move to Canada as a permanent resident. A decision is usually made within six months. EE includes three federal immigration pathways: (a) The Federal Skilled Worker Program is for skilled employees with foreign work experience in professional, managerial, or technical fields; (b) the Federal Skilled Trades Program is for skilled tradespersons; (c) the Canadian Experience Class is for skilled employees who have previously worked in Canada and now wish to become permanent residents
    • Provincial Nominee Program (PNP): This is for persons who want to settle in a specific province or territory and have the skills, education, and work experience to contribute to the economy of this specific province or territory. Each province has its own set of streams under the PNP that are targeted to specific groups — such as recent graduates, farmers, entrepreneurs, etc.
    • Caregiver pathways: There are two pilot immigration programs for individuals who have at least two years of full-time Canadian work experience in the caregiver occupation within the last three years.
    • Self-Employed Persons Program: Canada offers immigration options for persons who want to remain self-employed after immigrating. This is particularly suited for athletes and those who work in cultural fields.
  2. Start-Up Programs: Entrepreneurs with innovative start-up ideas who have financial support from Canadian investors can become permanent residents and launch their businesses in Canada.
  3. Family class sponsorship: Canadian citizens and permanent residents can sponsor their close relatives to come to Canada as permanent residents.
  4. Refugees: Refugees who are resettled from overseas become permanent residents through special resettlement programs such as the Government-Assisted Refugee Program or the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. Persons who make a refugee claim in Canada do not become permanent residents until their claim is approved by the federal immigration authority.
  5. Changing status from temporary to permanent resident: Canada offers many pathways for immigrants to change their status from temporary resident to permanent resident and citizenship.

Changing From One Visa to Another

The Canadian government has created various pathways for newcomers to eventually get Canadian citizenship. However, you must meet certain criteria to be eligible to change your legal status in Canada. Below you will find the most common routes for changing from one visa status to another.

Changing a Visitor Visa to a Work Permit

Canadian legislation allows you to change your Visitor Visa to a Work Permit only on specific occasions. You must fall into one of these categories to be eligible to apply for a Work Permit while you are inside Canada. In other circumstances, you must leave Canada and apply for a Work Permit from your country of residence.

However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Canada has temporarily allowed visitors to change their status to a Work Permit from inside Canada. Since August 24, 2020, foreigners who are in Canada with a valid Visitor Visa have been able to apply only for an Employer-Specific Work Permit (ESWP) from within Canada. At the time of writing, such COVID-19 related measures were expected to be valid until February 28, 2022. You need to follow this procedure to obtain an ESWP.

Additionally, you can use a Study Permit as a transition from a Visitor Visa to a Work Permit. First, you should obtain a Study Permit, complete the study term (at least eight months), and get a Work Permit.

Changing a Visitor Visa to a Study Permit

If you decide to obtain a Study Permit when you are already in Canada with a Visitor Visa, you should apply online via the special e-portal. However, unless you qualify under the exception list, making this work can be tricky. Even though you are physically in Canada, you must follow the instructions for applying for a study permit from outside Canada. You must choose your country of citizenship when asked about your current country. This is to make sure you get the correct application forms.

Please note that if you are currently in Canada, you must use your Canadian address in the application forms for feedback from the Canadian immigration authority.
However, your application will be processed in the same period of time as if you had applied from your home country.

Changing a Visitor Visa to Permanent Residence

Unfortunately, there is no direct way to change your Visitor Visa to Permanent Residence in Canada. However, all is not lost! There are several ways to become a Canadian permanent resident even if you are now on a Visitor Visa:

  1. Family Sponsorship: If you legally marry a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident and your spouse meets all necessary financial requirements, you may be sponsored by them under the Spousal class of the Family Sponsorship program. However, please note that your marriage must be genuine and recognized in Canada.
  2. Study Permit: You can use a Study Permit as a transitional step towards obtaining permanent residence in Canada. You can find out here how to change your visitor status to a Study Permit and then how to shift from the Study Permit to Permanent Residence.

Changing a Study Permit to a Work Permit

Canada encourages recent foreign graduates of Canadian learning institutions to stay and settle in Canada. Thus, in addition to the possibility of working while studying in Canada without a Work Permit, foreign students, after their graduation, can apply for a special Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). This is a special program administered by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) — the federal immigration authority. The Canadian government has simplified the application procedure for the PGWP compared to the general Work Permit. You must take the following steps to obtain a Post-Graduation Work Permit.

The PGWP is valid for up to three years, depending on the length of the study program. You can determine the length of validity of the PGWP based on the duration of a particular study program.

The PGWP cannot be extended. So if you want to stay in Canada after the PGWP, there are several pathways to do so.

Changing a Study Permit to Permanent Residence

The most popular way to obtain Permanent Residence (PR) for those who hold a Study Permit or Post-Graduation Work Permit is through the following Express Entry (EE) immigration program:

  • The Canadian Experience Class: This program is specifically designed for skilled employees who have prior Canadian working experience and now wish to become permanent residents. The CEC is primarily used by recent graduates to transition from temporary resident status to permanent status. After completing their studies, foreign graduates usually apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit. A PGWP allows students who have completed their studies to gain Canadian work experience, which in turn gives them access to the Canadian Experience Class.
  • The Federal Skilled Worker Program: This program is for skilled employees with foreign work experience in professional, managerial, or technical fields. Thus, if you have graduated recently from a Canadian designated learning institution but do not have Canadian work experience, you can choose to apply for the FSWP. However, you must have skilled work experience acquired abroad totalling at least one year of continuous employment within the past ten years.

The application process for the two above programs is almost identical. Candidates must apply via the Express Entry system. EE is the quickest way of obtaining PR in Canada. It uses the Comprehensive Ranking System to select the most qualified candidates; you can learn here how the Express Entry ranking system works.

​​The Express Entry program isn’t the only way to transition from temporary to permanent resident for recent graduates in Canada. There are several pilot programs as well as provincial and territorial initiatives that allow foreigners to apply for permanent residence after completing their studies. See the diagram that shows how you can obtain a Canadian PR after graduation and find more details about the transition process below.

Changing a Work Permit to Permanent Residence

There are many opportunities for foreigners who first move to Canada on a Temporary Work Permit and later want to become Canadian permanent residents. Usually, foreign workers who have already held a Work Permit have a better chance of getting their Permanent Residence application approved, especially in the COVID-19 pandemic time. Below are the most popular pathways for transitioning from a Work Permit to PR in Canada:

  1. Express Entry (EE) immigration programs: This is the fastest way to obtain Permanent Residence in Canada. There are three programs under the EE: Canadian Experience Class; Federal Skilled Worker Program; Federal Skilled Trade Program. Each has its own eligibility requirements. The most popular pathway is the Canadian Experience Class: it is for applicants who have at least 2 years of work experience in Canada or have completed post-secondary studies in Canada and have 1 year of work experience. The application process for these pathways is described in our article.
  2. Provincial Nominee Program (PNP): This is for persons who want to settle and work in a particular Canadian province or territory, except for Quebec and Nunavut. Each province or territory has its own streams under the PNP, based on specific economic needs. PNP follows a very specific two-stage process. In the first stage, a potential immigrant applies for a Provincial or Territorial Nomination directly to the immigration authority of the province or territory of his or her choosing. Successful applicants are awarded a Provincial Nomination (PN), which means this person is recommended for immigration to Canada’s federal government and can apply for permanent residence.
  3. Quebec Experience Class: This program is for temporary foreign workers who intend to settle in Quebec to hold a job there. Additionally, you must be legally in Quebec as a temporary foreign worker at the time of application and have good knowledge of oral French. In our article, you may find out how to apply for such Quebec immigration programs.
  4. Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP): If you are considering permanently settling in one of the provinces of Atlantic Canada (New Brunswick, New Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island), you may apply under one of the AIP streams. The AIP has two streams for foreign employees who have a valid job offer in Atlantic Canada: (a) Atlantic High-Skilled Program and (b) Atlantic Intermediate-Skilled Program. Each stream has different eligibility requirements.

Changing Permanent Resident Status to Canadian Citizenship

Becoming a permanent resident is the first step to becoming a Canadian citizen. After you have held permanent resident status in Canada for five years and lived in Canada for at least three of those five, you become eligible to apply for citizenship! However, you also must meet several other requirements. If you meet all criteria, you should apply to the IRCC for Canadian citizenship and pay your fees. Once you have submitted your application, you must pass the Citizenship Test that consists of 20 questions (multiple-choice or true/false) about Canadian geography, history, government, and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Here are our tips on how to prepare for this test.

If your application is approved, you will receive an invitation to a Citizenship Ceremony where you will take the Oath of Citizenship and officially obtain a Canadian citizenship certificate!

Extending Your Immigration Status in Canada

Extending your stay as a visitor

If you want to extend your stay in Canada, you should apply at least 30 days before your status expires. Please note that you need to apply for a visitor record, not for a Visitor Visa extension.

A visitor record is an independent document that is not placed in your passport. This document gives you status as a visitor in Canada and allows you to stay longer than 6 months. A visitor record must indicate a new expiry date of your stay in Canada. A visitor record is issued either by the Canada Border Services Agency or Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada.

Please note that it doesn’t matter if you entered Canada using a Visitor Visa or an electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). If you want to extend your stay in Canada as a visitor, you need a visitor record. In most cases, you must apply online to extend your stay as a visitor. If you apply to extend your stay in Canada before the date you’re supposed to leave, you can legally stay in Canada until a decision is made on your application. In this situation, you have maintained your previous status.

The average processing time is 142 days. The fee for a visitor record is from CAN $100 to CAN $200.

How many times can I extend my Visitor Visa in Canada?

There is no statutory limit on the number of times a person can extend visitor status. In each case, the immigration officer will consider the history of the applicant, the purpose of the visit, and whether there is a valid reason to continue visiting.

How long can I stay in Canada on a Visitor Visa?

In most cases, you are allowed to stay in Canada for up to six months on a Visitor Visa. However, this period can be extended.

Extending your stay as a student

If you want to study in Canada longer, you do not need to apply for a new Study Permit (SP). You can just extend your current one. To extend your Study Permit, you must apply at least 30 days before your current SP expires. We strongly recommend applying more than 30 days before it expires, as force majeure circumstances can occur.

Please note that If you apply before your SP expires, you can continue to study under the same conditions as your current SP until the IRCC makes a decision. This only applies as long as you stay in Canada.

Usually, you must apply online to extend your SP via the special e-portal. Before submitting the application for the extension you must pay the extension fee of CAN $150. The average processing time for an SP extension is 57 days.

Extending your stay as a worker

You can extend your stay as a worker in Canada. However, in some cases, the extension process requires that not only you but also your employer must take action.

In general, you should apply to extend your Work Permit at least 30 days before your current permit expires. If you have an Employer-Specific Work Permit, your employer must apply for a new Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) before you start your application. If you have an Open Work Permit, or you are exempt from the LMIA process, your employer will need to pay the employer compliance fee and submit a new offer of employment through the Employer Portal.

You should apply online via the e-portal. You must pay the respective fee:

  • For Employer-Specific Work Permit holders - CAN $155;
  • For Open Work Permit holders - CAN $255.

The average processing time for your extension application is 106 days. Be aware that if you apply to extend or change the conditions of your work permit before it expires, you’re legally allowed to stay in Canada while the IRCC processes your application.

Restoring Your Immigration Status in Canada

Canada allows individuals to restore their status as a visitor, student, or worker within 90 days after losing it. However, there are some restrictions. You can restore your status only if you lost it because:

  1. You changed employers, location of employment, or type of work before obtaining a new Work Permit as is required by law.
  2. You stayed in Canada longer than the period authorized for your stay (but not longer than 90 days).
  3. You changed the type of studies, educational institutions, location of studies, or times and periods of studies without applying to change these conditions on your Study Permit, as required by law.

While applying for restoration of your status in Canada, you must explain all of the facts and circumstances that prevented you from complying with the conditions of your permit. Foreigners applying to restore their temporary resident status need to pay only the restoration fee of CAN $200. However, if a Work or Study Permit is required, they must pay the cost recovery fees for each permit, in addition to the fee for restoration — from CAN $150 to CAN $200 per permit.

Please note that there is no guarantee that your application will be approved and your status will be restored, so it is best not to fail to comply with the initial conditions of your stay in Canada.

We Can Help
It is up to you to decide whether Canada suits your plans and goals or not. If you choose to stay in Canada longer than initially was planned, our team will be happy to assist you in changing your immigration status in Canada. Contact us, and we will provide you with a realistic assessment of your chances for success. We will recommend the most suitable pathway for you and help prepare and submit the required applications as well as all supporting documents. If you still have any questions, please contact us, and we will be happy to answer.