The Canadian start-up visa: how it works

Not many know that Canada allows for foreign entrepreneurs to obtain Permanent Residency in Canada for the purpose of setting up a business.

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It is a little-known fact that Canada allows for foreign entrepreneurs to obtain Permanent Residency in Canada for the purpose of setting up a start-up business. Whilst the application process for Permanent Residence is lengthy, you can even apply for a temporary work permit, which will allow you to start on your business whilst you wait to receive your Permanent Residence status.

The experiences of several successful Canadian start-up visa applicants are explained here. In order to qualify for this visa, you must intend to reside in the Province of Quebec and you must meet the provincial selection criteria (Paragraph 70(3) Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations). The selection criteria for the Start-Up Visa Program are as follows:

  • You must have a qualifying business – each applicant (up to a team of 5) must have 10% or more of the voting rights each and all of the applicants and designated organisation must jointly hold more than 50% of the voting rights attached to all shares of the corporation at that time;
  • You must obtain a letter of support from a designated organisation (venture capital fund (must agree to invest a minimum of CA$200,000), angel investor group (must agree to invest a minimum of CA$75,000), or an approved business incubator);
  • You must meet the language requirements – Minimum level of the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 5 in either English or French in speaking, reading, listening and writing; and
  • You must bring enough money with you to settle – This will depend upon the number of people in your family, but for a sole applicant you will require funds of CA$12,960.

Eligibility for a short-term work permit (start-up applicant)

In order to apply for the short-term work permit you will need to meet the following criteria:

  • You must plan to live in the Province of Quebec;
  • You must submit a “self employed” offer of employment and pay the employer compliance fee (CA$230);
  • You must have received a Commitment Certificate and Letter of Support from a designated entity; and
  • You must have sufficient funds to meet the low income cut off for you and your family for 52 weeks (1 applicant would be CA$25,338)

Application Process

STEP 1 – You will need to obtain a letter of support. It is recommended that you check out the examples first. that this is easiest to obtain through a business incubator. Each business incubator has its own application process and criteria. Typically the process will involve: (1) submitting a business plan; (2) attending an interview with the incubator (usually online); and (3) providing documentation and information to the incubator so that they can complete a due diligence report. Typically, a business incubator will place you onto a support programme at the cost of around CA$2,000-$3,000 per month.

STEP 2 – Once you have received your letter of support (typically, the business incubator will take around 1 month to process an application), you should then apply for a short-term work permit. In order to do this, you will need to submit an offer of employment through the Canadian Government’s employer portal and pay the employer compliance fee. You should then gather your supporting documents and submit form IMM_1295 online. The processing time for the work permit is around 16 days. Please note that upon submitting your application you will be invited to attend a biometrics appointment at your local Canadian embassy/consulate and a medical appointment.

STEP 3 – Once you have received your work permit. You should then gather your supporting documents for the Permanent Residence application and complete the following forms online and submit via the portal:

  • IMM 0008 including part IMM 5669 (Schedule A) and Schedule 13;
  • IMM 5406 (if travelling with family members);
  • IMM 5409;
  • IMM 5562; and
  • IMM 5475 (if using a representative).

Once submitted the processing time for this application is between 12-16 months. Please note that upon submitting your application you will be invited to attend an additional biometrics appointment and your local Canadian embassy/consulate and an additional medical appointment.

STEP 4 – After you have submitted your Permanent Residence Permit, you may then travel to Canada. Once you arrive in Canada, you will be able to work on your start-up business whilst you wait for your application to be processed.

Documents You Will Need

Documents required for work permit

  • Valid passport or other travel document;
  • Letter of Support from the business incubator (or other designated entity);
  • Bank statements proving that you have enough income to support yourself and for a 52-week period;
  • A valid police certificate; and
  • 2 passport sized photos..

Documents required for the Permanent Residence application

  • Passports and other travel documents for yourself and any family members;
  • Proof of language proficiency;
  • Letter of Support from the business incubator (or other designated entity);
  • Two passport sized photographs; and
  • Banks statements or similar proving sufficient maintenance funds

Can I bring my family members?

Yes, you are able to include your spouse and dependent children on the application for a work permit and also on the application for permanent residence. You will need to provide additional documents proving your relationship with these additional applicants i.e. marriage certificates, birth certificates, identity documents etc.

Pathway to Citizenship

Once you have sent 5 years in Canada you may be able to apply for Naturalisation, so long as you have spent at least 1,095 days out of the 5 years before you apply (N.B. to retain Permanent Residence status you must spent at least 730 days in Canada during each 5 year period) (Subsection 5(1)(c)(i) Citizenship Act).

Additionally, you must:

  • be able to prove that you are able to speak and listen in French or English to at least CLB Level 4 or higher (Section 14 Citizenship Regulations) ;
  • file taxes in Canada for at least 3 years during the 5 years before you apply (Subsection 5(1)(c)(iii); and
  • pass a test on your rights, responsibilities and knowledge of Canada (Section 15(1) Citizenship Regulations)


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