BlogHow do I get a work visa for Canada?Working in CanadaEntrepreneur alert – What are your Canadian business immigration options?

11 November 2021

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We are frequently approached by international business people seeking to establish a presence in Canada and settle with their families permanently. In the international marketplace, “business immigration” is a common term and many countries offer attractive options for obtaining permanent residence. Yet Canada offers little in the way of a federal business immigration program – please refer to our previous blog on the subject – “Business Immigrants: Canada is NOT open for business“. For the intrepid entrepreneur, there are several ways to establish a business presence in Canada, but obtaining permanent residence for yourself and your family will take strategic planning. Let’s review the business immigration options for Canada.

1) Federal Start-Up Visa and Self-Employed categories

Presently, Canada’s federal business immigration program consists of primarily the Federal Start-Up Visa (SUV) program. Aspiring entrepreneurs need to secure the support of an Angel Investor, Venture Capital fund, or Business Incubator recognized by the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) as Designated Organizations (DOs). The program is designed to attract start-up ventures that have an “innovative” business concept meant to kick-start the economy. In addition to the federal SUV program, the Self-Employed (SE) category continues for individuals engaged in cultural and athletic activities. Both the SUV and the SE categories are permanent residence applications, although both provide options for work permits.

For a more in-depth discussion of both of these programs, please refer to our earlier blogs: “Canada’s Business Immigration Program: The Start-Up Visa and Self-Employed Class”  and “Express Entry Alternatives: The Self-Employed Application and Other Immigration Strategies” .

The SUV program has become attractive for many aspiring business people, and the number of applications has soared in recent years, with a current inventory of over 6700 pending applicants. Presently processing targets for the SUV class are at 1000 – 1200 applications per year. At current levels, SUV processing times are anticipated to be several years. In the wake of COVID – 19, SE applications are also taking 2-3 years for processing.

2) Provincial and Territorial PNP Entrepreneur programs

Almost every province and territory in Canada has a Provincial Nominee Program for entrepreneurial applicants. Each province and territory differs in the features of their program, but they are generally predicated on submitting a business proposal that meets the regional development goals of each region, usually setting financial thresholds for both investment and net worth, requirements for physical presence in Canada, day to day management of the business and minimum job creation for Canadian citizens and permanent residents. Most programs require applicants to enter into a contract to perform on their business plan and investment proposal. Initially, entrepreneurs come to Canada on temporary status, which after fulfilling the business commitment, can progress to permanent residence. Some programs require applicants to post a significant deposit upfront and then apply for and obtain permanent residency. If the business is not established in accordance with the terms of the contract, then the deposit is forfeited.

For information on BC’s most recent entrepreneur program, please refer to our blog “Province Launches New Regional Entrepreneur Immigration Program

3) Intra-Company Transferees

For entrepreneurs with established businesses outside of Canada, the Intra-Company Transferee (ICT) work permit may be a good option for establishing a presence in Canada. The ICT category permits the transfer of personnel such as Executives, Managers, and Specialized Knowledge Workers (SKWs). To be eligible, an individual must have at least one full year of consecutive work experience with the foreign branch, affiliate, or subsidiary corporate entity within the past three years. The corporate entity must have continuing operations overseas as well as establish a functional presence in Canada. Work permits are renewable for up to seven years for Executives and Managers and up to five years for SKWs. This is an excellent platform to establish a presence in Canada to obtain permanent residence in the future after working for several years with an ICT work permit.

4) Trade Agreements for Investors and professionals

Canada has several free trade agreements (FTAs) with work permit provisions for both investors and professionals. The following trade agreements exist with such provisions:

  • CUSMA (USA and Mexico);
  • CETA (European Union and the UK);
  • CUKTA (the UK – Post Brexit);
  • CPTPP (Australia, Japan, Vietnam, and Mexico); and
  • FTAs with Korea, Colombia, Chile, and Peru.

Each trade agreement sets out the criteria for eligibility for either professionals or traders and investors. If you meet these criteria, this is an excellent way to come to Canada either as a worker or as an investor to establish a business in Canada. Working in Canada either as a professional or as a business person can lead to permanent residence in the future.

5) Owner-Operator Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA)

The Owner-Operator (O/O) LMIA provides a confirmed job offer from Service Canada that recognizes that a business person will be providing a benefit to the Canadian labor market such that they should be granted a work permit. At the introduction of the Express Entry selection program on January 1, 2015, an LMIA garnered 600 Comprehensive Ranking Score (CRS) points which virtually guaranteed a successful permanent residence application. However, by November 2016, IRCC reduced the CRS points for an LMIA work permit holder from 600 to either 200 or 50 depending upon the classification of employment. O/O work permits remained popular for business persons who otherwise could not meet the Express Entry scoring requirements to obtain permanent residence.

However, as of April 1, 2021, Service Canada has eliminated many of the benefits of the O/O category precluding eligibility for new start-up operations and imposing the same advertising requirements as all LMIA applicants. Practically there is no longer any benefit to apply for an O/O based work permit, and entrepreneur applicants are better served by using the ICT application process. For more information about the recent changes to the O/O category, please refer to our blog: “Changes Coming to Owner/Operator LMIA program” .

Canada’s federal immigration program has limited options for business people to obtain permanent residence in Canada. Aspiring entrepreneurial immigrants to Canada need to consider alternative options such as PNP programs or various work permit options which will ultimately lead to Canada’s Express Entry selection program. In virtually all cases, a long-term strategy is required at the outset of your Canadian business aspirations. For more information about permanent residence strategies for business applicants, be sure to read our next blog!

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Sas and Ing Immigration Law Centre LLP

A partnership between Catherine Sas Law Corporation and Victor Ing Law Corporation

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About the Author