BlogCanada Immigration LawyersCanadian Immigration ProgramsHow do I get a work visa for Canada?Owner/Operators Filling the Gap in Business Immigration Programs

1 June 2016

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It has been over two years since June 2014 when the federal government permanently shut down the federal immigrant investor pathway to Canadian permanent residence. Under the former program, foreign investors and entrepreneurs could obtain permanent residence in exchange for a one-time lump sum investment to Canada. The program was finally scrapped over widespread criticism that it was not generating long-term benefits for Canadians and because many viewed the program as a way for immigrants to buy their way to Canadian citizenship. Unsurprisingly, the new immigration Minister, the Honourable John McCallum, has already publicly stated that there are no current plans to restart or reinvent the troubled program.

In the absence of a federal investor immigration program, many foreign entrepreneurs with business experience and capital to invest in existing or brand new Canadian businesses are looking for alternative pathways to permanent residence. Many of these entrepreneurs have begun taking a different approach to first come to Canada as Owner/Operators of their own Canadian businesses with a view to later applying for Canadian permanent residence.

The Owner/Operator program, which is administered by Service Canada, allows foreign owners and co-owners of Canadian businesses to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to apply for work permits to come to Canada. Once approved, it is expected that these Owner/Operators will actively manage their Canadian business investment. To be successful, the owner or co-owners of the business must prove their ownership in the Canadian operations and that their services will be integral to the day-to-day operations of the enterprise. Furthermore, the Owner/Operator should be able to show that their investment and employment with the company will benefit Canadians by creating new employment opportunities or maintaining existing ones.

The Owner/Operator program is not a direct path to obtaining Canadian permanent residence. If successful, an Owner/Operator will arrive in Canada and begin working in their Canadian business similar to other foreign workers. After obtaining their work permits, however, they can begin the permanent residence application process by applying as skilled workers under Canada’s Express Entry System. As holders of work permits issued under LMIAs approved by Service Canada, these applicants will receive 600 additional points towards receiving an invitation to apply for permanent residence.

Although the Owner/Operator is not a direct path to permanent residence it has many advantages that may be attractive to entrepreneurs. One of the primary advantages is that these applications can be approved relatively quickly, which will allow the Owner/Operator and his or her family members to live and work in Canada and see if permanent residence is right for them. Further, unlike other business programs offered by the provinces and territories that place a heavy emphasis on language abilities in either English or French, there are no set language requirements to be granted an Owner/Operator LMIA.

There is little guidance published by Service Canada about what is required to successfully obtain an Owner/Operator LMIA. For instance, there are no set guidelines on what level of investment is required or what business experience the applicant should have to be approved. Without established guidelines, it becomes even more important for applicants to make a comprehensive business case about the Canadian operations and the economic benefits that will be created by the applicants. If the application is approved both Canada and the foreign entrepreneur stand to gain a great deal from this business program, which encourages both the injection of financial and human capital into the Canadian labour market.

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