How to immigrate to Canada from the U.S.

Shelby Thevenot
Published: October 18, 2021

If your goal is to get Canadian permanent residence, you have a number of options depending on your individual circumstances, and your settlement goals.

For starters, you will want to decide if you are going to Canada as an economic-class immigrant or family class. If you do not have close family in Canada, then you might want to explore the more than 100 Canadian economic-class immigration programs.

There are a number of ways to become eligible for these programs. Given that they are under the economic class, they will be tailored for people who are coming to Canada to build a career. So the program requirements will look at your educational achievements, as well as your work experience. Language proficiency will also play a role, even if English is your first language.

Discover if You’re Eligible for Canadian Immigration

It is oftentimes beneficial to get Canadian experience before entering the labour market. Studies show that immigrants with previous experience working and studying in Canada can boost your earning potential.

Study Permits and Post-Graduation Work Permits

If you want to study in Canada, you need a study permit. You can apply for one once you get a letter of acceptance from a Canadian institution. Study permits allow you to legally go to school in Canada, work part time during the school year and full time during scheduled academic breaks.

To qualify for certain immigration programs you need a Canadian education from a Designated Learning Institution (DLI). Many of the programs offered at these institutions will qualify you for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), which will allow you to work in Canada for up to three years.

Through this combined work and study experience, it will open the doors to many immigration pathways.

However, if you are done with your studies and just want to work in Canada there are a number of options for you as well. Especially if you are a U.S. citizen.

Discover your options to study in Canada


Formerly known as NAFTA, the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) makes it easier for U.S. citizens to work in Canada.

If you can come to Canada on a CUSMA work permit, your Canadian employer gets to skip the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process, which can be lengthy and expensive.

There are four categories of CUSMA work permits:

CUSMA Professionals - A CUSMA Professional must be qualified to work in one of approximately 60 targeted professions, and have CUSMA pre-arranged employment in Canada in an occupation that matches their qualifications.

CUSMA Intra-Company Transfers - CUSMA Intra-Company Transferees must be transferred to Canada on a temporary basis in order to work for a branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of their U.S. employer. They must work in a capacity that is considered managerial, executive, or involving specialized knowledge.

CUSMA Traders - A CUSMA Trader must demonstrate an intention to carry out substantial trade of goods or services between Canada and the U.S. The trader must be employed as a supervisor or executive, or have duties that involve essential skills.

CUSMA Investors - A CUSMA Investor must demonstrate that they have made a substantial investment in a new or existing Canadian business and that they are seeking entry to Canada to develop and direct that business. Work permits in the CUSMA Investor category may also be granted to employees of the primary Investor who can be considered essential staff.

If you do not fit under any of these categories, or you are a U.S. resident with citizenship in another country, there are other work permit options for you.

Temporary Foreign Worker Program and International Mobility Program

The key difference between work permits under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) versus the International Mobility Program (IMP) comes down to the need for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA).

TFWP work permits require the Canadian employers to complete the LMIA process. A positive LMIA is basically a document that proves there will be a positive or neutral impact to the Canadian labour market if the employer hires the foreign worker. Employers will oftentimes have to demonstrate that they advertised the open position for a set amount of time, and no domestic worker was available to fill the role.

The mandate of the TFWP is to fill gaps in the labour market. On the other hand, the IMP is more for broadening Canada's economic, social, and cultural interests. These work permits do not require an LMIA.

IMP work permits are largely based on bilateral agreements with other countries, such as CUSMA. Another example of this program is the Global Talent Stream, which has a two-week processing standard and offers a pathway to Canada for H-1B holders in the U.S.

Those are just some of the examples of how to come to Canada temporarily. There are also a number of immigration programs available to those who want to go right for permanent residency.

Get help with Canadian work permits

Express Entry

Express Entry is an online application management system for three Canadian immigration programs: the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), and the Canadian Experience Class (CEC). Although the pandemic has pushed back processing for most of these programs, Express Entry was created to offer a shorter pathway to permanent residency, compared to the previous paper-based application system. The processing standard was six months for 80 per cent of applicants, but the pandemic has pushed most lines of business to processing CEC applications, and pushed the others to the back seat.

The CEC is the top Express Entry program for candidates who are already in Canada. One key eligibility criterion is that candidates need to have at least one year of Canadian work experience in a skilled occupation.

Although Canadian work experience is valued in the Express Entry points system, it is not necessarily required to qualify for the FSWP.

The FSWP requires you to have one year of continuous skilled work experience, a Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 7 in English or French, and an education credential. You also have to score 67 out of a possible 100 on the FSWP points grid, which is separate from the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) used by Express Entry. It is not necessary to have a job offer.

The FSTP is for skilled trades workers with at least two years of full time work experience in an eligible occupation. Among other criteria, they must have a valid job offer for a period of at least one year in Canada, and hold a certificate of qualification in a skilled trade issued by a Canadian provincial, territorial, or federal authority.

The Express Entry system invites the highest-scoring candidates to apply for permanent residence. You cannot apply for permanent residency without an Invitation to Apply (ITA). Canada's immigration department, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), holds regular rounds of invitations where it sends the ITAs. If your CRS score is not high enough to receive an ITA, you may be able to try for a provincial nomination, which will support your Express Entry application.

Provincial Nominee Program

Almost all of Canada's provinces and territories, except Nunavut and Quebec, have Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs).

There are two types of PNPs: "enhanced" programs, which are aligned with Express Entry; and "base" programs which operate independently from the Express Entry system.

Enhanced programs pull from the Express Entry pool of candidates. If you receive a provincial nomination through one of these PNPs, you get 600 CRS points added to your overall score. This award will push you to the top of the pool, priming you to receive an ITA in a subsequent Express Entry draw.

Base PNPs work a little differently, and can be an option for people who are not eligible for Express Entry. To immigrate through a base PNP, you apply to the province, and if you are eligible, get a nomination. With your certificate in hand, you can then apply for permanent residence to the federal government.

Family-class sponsorship

Canada allows citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their spouse, common-law partner, children, or parents and grandparents. Canadians can only sponsor relatives like a brother, sister, aunt or uncle in specific circumstances. They cannot sponsor relatives who are considered criminally or medically inadmissible.

Spouses and common-law partners can either be sponsored from inside Canada or in another country. Essentially, to be eligible you have to be over the age 18, and in an ongoing, genuine relationship with a Canadian who can financially support you and any children you may have. Canadian citizens can sponsor from abroad, but permanent residents must be in the country. If you both want to wait out the process in Canada, as the foreign spouse or common-law partner you may be able to get a spousal Open Work Permit.

The Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP) is a pathway to permanent residence for parents and grandparents of Canadians. The program currently operates like a lottery system, where there is a temporary intake window where IRCC accepts interest to sponsor forms. The immigration department then invites candidates to apply for permanent residence. An alternative option to the PGP is the Super Visa, which allows parents and grandparents to stay in Canada for up to two years at a time.

Canadians can also sponsor their biological or adopted children who are under the age of 22.

Sponsor your family for Canadian immigration

© CIC News All Rights Reserved. Visit to discover your Canadian immigration options.

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