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The start-up visa and self-employed class are primary options for prospective business immigrants
Posted on - May 12, 2020

By Catherine Sas Q.C.

Catherine Sas Q.C.

As immigration lawyers, we are frequently approached by both aspiring business immigrants as well as Canadian business owners who are keen to sign a deal and transfer ownership of a business with a view to the prospective business immigrant securing their family’s status in Canada and the Canadian business owner securing their family’s retirement. A mutually beneficial arrangement!

Sadly, Canada’s federal business immigration programs don’t contemplate such an arrangement as a means of obtaining Canadian permanent residence, thwarting the dreams of both prospective business immigrants and Canadian business owners not to mention the loss of investment in the Canadian economy.

Let’s review the current options for business immigration to Canada.

The options for prospective business immigrants to Canada have diminished significantly over the years. From 2002 up until 2012, Canada’s business immigration program consisted of the Investor, Entrepreneur and Self-Employed classes. The Investor class required a passive investment from an experienced business person or senior manager who met established net worth and investment levels. The Entrepreneur class required a business applicant to make a significant investment (which was undefined) in either a newly established or a purchased and enhanced Canadian business which they were required to operate for a specified period of time. Once the Entrepreneur was able to provide a business plan and establish that they had both the skills, experience and financial resources to run the business, they would receive a conditional visa for themselves and their family to obtain permanent resident (PR) status. After operating the business for the proscribed period of time, a further application was required in order to remove the conditions to their family’s PR status. The Self Employed class was a restricted class for persons engaged in self employment in culture, athletics and farming. Applicants needed to demonstrate that they were engaged in self-employment in these specific areas and that they were able to earn sufficient income from their self employed activities to support themselves and their immediate family members for two of the past five years. Of these three categories, only the Self Employed Category remains and it has been further restricted to suspend applicants self-employed in farming.

In 2012 the Investor and Entrepreneur classes were suspended from receiving new applications and in June of 2014 both categories were formally cancelled. In the midst of all of this, in 2013 the Conservative Minister of Immigration of the day, Jason Kenney, introduced the Start Up visa pilot program. The concept behind the Start Up visa was designed to attract innovative and creative entrepreneurs and not restrict their ability to obtain PR status due to a lack of either business experience nor personal capital. This program focused on the prospective applicant’s business ingenuity rather than on past experience and deep pockets. The concept was simple – if the business idea was good enough, then Canadians would want to get in on the ground floor and invest in the business. Hence the Start Up visa (SUV) was born! While introduced in 2013 as a pilot program, the SUV became a permanent program in August 2017.

The SUV requires that a prospective immigrant obtain a Commitment Certificate from either an approved Venture Capital Fund (VCF) or Angel Investor (AI). The VCF or AI will review the business concept and must commit to support the business with an investment of $200,000 for the VCF or $75,000 for the AI. The involvement of the VCF or AI is meant to provide a level of review of the business proposal’s chances of success such that they are willing to invest their own Canadian financial resources. Later in 2013 the Business Incubator category was introduced to the federal immigration program. The federally approved Business Incubator (BI) provides mentorship to a prospective business immigrant applicant to ensure the success of the new Canadian venture. For a full list of the federally approved SUV entities – VCF, AI and BIs – please refer here: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada/start-visa/designated-organizations.html

Canada’s federal business immigration program is currently limited to the Start Up Visa and Self Employed classes which are very specifically defined categories of applicants. In addition, most provinces and territories offer Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP) for business immigration. These PNP business programs are highly individualized and vary significantly in the requirements for each province or territory. But they do offer other options for prospective business immigrants to Canada. As most business people know, there is no easy pathway to entrepreneurial success and Canada’s business immigration programs confirm that reality!

Be sure to join Catherine on May 21, 2021 when she moderates the ImmSeminar’s program on the Start Up Visa: https://imm-seminars5.mybigcommerce.com/20200521-start-up-visa-full-disclosure/


Catherine Sas, Q.C. is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada. Catherine has been practicing law for over 25 years, and has been voted Vancouver’s Best Immigration Lawyer by the Georgia Straight newspaper for 8 consecutive years.


To learn more about immigrating to Canada, becoming a permanent Canadian resident or bringing your family to Canada, email Catherine Sas or call her at 1-604-689-5444.

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