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Canada’s bid to attract entrepreneurs: the Start-up Visa Program

Sara Espinal Henao

Canada wants entrepreneurs. With a strong and stable economy, world leading growth opportunities across industries, and a highly educated workforce, it is a great place to build a dynamic business that can compete on a global scale.

A permanent immigration program since 2018, Canada’s Start-up Visa targets immigrant entrepreneurs with innovative ventures and the backing of designated organizations that support their business plan. Successful applicants are able to settle in Canada as permanent residents, and have the option of coming to Canada as foreign workers while in the process of obtaining permanent resident status.

How it works

Entrepreneurs must undergo the following steps to obtain permanent residence under this program:

  1. Get the support of a designated organization

Applicants must secure the backing of a designated organization – a venture capital fund, angel investor group, or business incubator – that has been approved to invest in or support start-ups under the program.

Each designated organization has its own process for selecting the start-up that they wish to support and applicants must contact these entities directly to present their business venture.

If selected, the designated organization will provide a letter of support to the applicant and send a Commitment Certificate to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) on the applicant’s behalf.

  1. Set up a qualifying business in Canada

In order to qualify for the Start-up Business Class, a business should be properly incorporated at the time a commitment is made to bind the applicant to a designated entity. However, the program might also accept qualifying businesses whose incorporation is conditional upon the attainment of permanent residence by the applicant.

Each applicant must hold 10% or more of the voting rights attached to all shares of the corporation. Together, the applicants and the designated organization must jointly hold more than 50% of its total voting rights.

  1. Meet individual eligibility requirements

In addition to establishing a qualifying business with the backing of a designated organization, individual applicants must submit proof that they too meet the program’s eligibility criteria.

The ability to communicate and work in either English or French must be demonstrated in the application. To that end, applicants must take a language test from an approved agency and reach the minimum level of the Canadian Language Benchmark (“CLB”) 5 in either language.

Applicants also need to provide proof that they have enough funds to support themselves and their dependents after they arrive in Canada. Sufficient funds are determined according to the applicant’s family size.

  1. Submit the application

Once applicants have gathered all documents required to prove their and their business’ eligibility under the program, they can submit their application for permanent residence to IRCC. Upon submission, applications have an estimated processing time of 12 to 16 months.

Why we like it

  1. Greater flexibility compared to other entrepreneur programs

Canadian immigration programs intended for entrepreneurs typically allow only one principal applicant per business venture, require applicants to personally invest a substantial minimum amount in that business, and/or involve a business performance stage where the applicant must show that the start-up has been viable and successful before finalizing the permanent residence process. Further, provincial programs often require that applicants demonstrate a genuine intent to settle permanently and continue to reside in their province that nominated them, limiting their ability to relocate with their business if needed.

With the aim of making the process easier and more accessible, the Start-Up Visa option addresses those barriers. The program allows up to five co-founders named under one single commitment from a designated entity to apply, does not require applicants to personally invest in their proposed business venture, and grants permanent residence with no conditions attached to the location or success of that business.

  1. Lower language fluency requirements

Further, while most permanent residence programs at the federal level require that the applicant demonstrate fluency in English or French equivalent to level 7 in the CLB at a minimum, this program’s lower language proficiency threshold constitutes a more accessible eligibility requirement.

  1. It allows you to work while you wait

Lastly, applicants who are an essential part of the operations of the business and have secured a letter of support from a designated organization can obtain a work permit under the program. This allows entrepreneurs to come to Canada and start working on their business while they wait to obtain permanent resident status.

Further information

If you have further questions about this program, or other programs intended for entrepreneurs, we would be pleased to discuss your options. Please contact our Immigration Group.

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