Canada is an attractive place for entrepreneurs to start or grow a business. If you’re an entrepreneur with an innovative business idea, you may be able to immigrate to Canada through the Start-up Visa (SUV) program. Although it is a competitive process, the opportunity to turn your idea into reality, get financial support through private investors, access a highly skilled workforce, and build a comfortable life in Canada makes applying to the SUV program a worthwhile endeavour for many global entrepreneurs.
In this article:
What is the Start-up Visa program?
Canada’s Start-up Visa program was started in 2013 to encourage talented and ambitious entrepreneurs to start their business here, contribute to job growth, and help drive the economy. The process is intended to expedite immigration of foreign entrepreneurs or start-up founders who wish to establish and operate their business in Canada. The program grants permanent residence (PR) to successful applicants while also helping them become established in Canada through funding, guidance, and expertise in opening and operating an enterprise on Canadian soil.
Eligibility for the Start-up Visa program
To be eligible to apply for the SUV program, your business venture should be innovative, scalable, and create jobs for Canadians. You must meet all the requirements for a qualifying business, including getting a letter of support from a designated organization. Finally, to qualify for PR under the Start-up Visa program, you first need to establish your business venture in Canada. If required, you can get a temporary work permit to come to Canada and set up your business.
If you’re still in the ideation phase of your business, you may want to explore other options to obtain temporary or permanent residence while you plan your venture.
Become a qualifying business
A qualifying business means that at the time of your application to the SUV program, you or your business venture meet all of the following criteria:
- Have obtained a commitment from a designated organization. A commitment is an agreement between the applicant and the designated entity to incorporate your qualifying business in Canada. (Read section on obtaining a letter of support from a designated organization for more information)
- Each SUV program applicant holds 10 per cent or more of the voting rights attached to all shares of the corporation (up to five people can apply as owners.)
- All applicants and the designated organization (or organizations, as there can be more than one) jointly hold more than 50 per cent of the total voting rights attached to all shares of the corporation outstanding at that time.
Note that, if you are successful in your application, at the time you receive your permanent residence, you must:
- Ensure the business is incorporated in Canada (consideration may be made if incorporation is conditional upon obtaining PR.)
- Ensure an essential part of the business operations are in Canada.
- Provide active and ongoing management of the business within Canada.
Obtain a letter of support from a designated organization
Before you can apply for the Start-up Visa program, your business venture or idea must get support from one or more of the designated organizations pre-approved by the SUV program to invest in or support start-ups. This support is also referred to as a “commitment.”
The list of designated private sector businesses is divided into three categories: venture capital funds, angel investor groups, and business incubators. Each category provides a different level of support to the business venture to be eligible to apply to the SUV program.
- Venture capital funds – One or more of the designated organizations must agree to invest at least $200,000 in your venture. This is the combined total if there are multiple investors.
- Angel investor groups – One or more of the investors must agree to invest at least a total of $75,000 in your venture.
- Business incubators – You or your business venture must be accepted into one of the business incubator programs, but don’t need to get external funding.
If a designated organization decides to support your business, it provides you a letter of support which must be submitted as part of your SUV application. Each letter of support is valid for a period of six months from the date it is issued. This means your application for permanent residence under the Start-up Business Class must be submitted within six months of the letter of support being issued.
How to seek a letter of support from a designated organization
You can expect to undertake significant preparation to prove your business idea is worthy of the support of one of the designated entities. Research the submission requirements for the various designated organizations, as they will vary from one to the other. While some organizations provide an online application process, others require you to personally contact them to enquire.
A number of venture capital funds, for example, include a dedicated online form for SUV program applicants that request a range of information pertaining to your professional qualifications and business venture idea. Be prepared to provide your professional and personal background (a curriculum vitae), business plan, and pitch deck to start the process.
Angel investors will require similar information to assess whether to invest in your company. York Angels, for example, has an online validation process for the Start-up Visa program to assess a business venture. It advises applicants to be prepared to provide information on the company’s founders, the market problem, along with the venture’s solution, market, path to profit, and business model.
If you reach an agreement with a designated organization, it will send you a letter of support. You need to include this letter when submitting your SUV application. This is the proof that shows a venture capital fund, angel investor group, or business incubator supports your business idea and will help you establish your venture in Canada.
The organization will also send a commitment certificate directly to the IRCC on your behalf. You may be asked to provide additional business information before a final decision is made on your application.
To be eligible to apply for the SUV program, you must prove your ability to communicate in English or French. You must take an approved language test (not the academic level test) and score the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) level 5 or higher in speaking, reading, listening, and writing. You are responsible for arranging and paying for the test. Your language test results will be valid for two years from the date of your test.
Proof of settlement funds
The Government of Canada does not give financial support to new Start-up Visa immigrants.
When you apply, you need to provide proof that you have the money to support yourself and your dependents after you arrive in Canada. You cannot borrow this money from another person.
The amount you need depends on the size of your family and is updated by the government every year. Independently of the amount required by IRCC, it’s a good idea to get a clear idea of what it will cost to live where you plan to settle in Canada, as it will vary across regions and cities. You can use Arrive’s Cost of Living Calculator to estimate your monthly living expenses based on the city you plan to live in, family size, type of housing, and transportation you intend to use.
Applying for permanent residence under the Start-up Visa program
Once you’re eligible to apply for permanent residence under the Start-up Visa program, you can do so online or on paper from within Canada, or your home country. Keep in mind, your letter of support is valid for six months, and you must submit your application for permanent residence before it expires whether you apply for a temporary work permit or not.
To complete your application, use the document checklist provided by the IRCC. Gather all supporting documents and information in the order identified in the checklist and check each item off. If you’re submitting a paper application, print and sign the document checklist, and attach to the front of your application as the cover page.
Essential documents required to apply for PR under the SUV program:
- Generic Application Form to Canada (IMM 0008)
- Additional dependents declaration, if needed
- Background/declaration (IMM 5669) with a detailed personal history from the last 10 years or since the age of 18 including work experience, education, unemployment periods, etc.
- Business Immigration programs – Start up business class (IMM 0008 – Schedule 13) form
- Additional family information (IMM 5406)
- Passports or travel documents
- Proof of language proficiency (IELTS, CELPIP, or TEF)
- Letter of support from your designated organization
- Identification documents for yourself and your family
- Police certificates
- Medical exams
- Proof of readily transferable funds in a convertible currency in the required amounts based on the number of family members applying.
To make sure you have a complete application, you must answer all questions and sign your application and all the forms.
You are also required to pay all fees, including a biometrics fee to cover the cost of collecting fingerprints and a digital photo, processing fees, and the Right of Permanent Residence Fee (RPRF).
If there are multiple people applying for permanent residence as partners in a qualifying business, no applications will be processed until all are received. Each business partner must submit their own application in separate envelopes. Even if your business partner is your spouse, you must submit separate applications.
Once you meet the eligibility criteria, complete your biometrics, and pass the medical exams and police background checks, a decision will be made on your application. If your application is approved, you’ll receive a Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) and, if you’re outside Canada, you’ll be asked to get a visa stamped on your passport.
If you’re already living in Canada, you’ll have to appear for a short immigration interview at an IRCC office in Canada by appointment, or at a Canadian port of entry. Here, you must present proof that you have the funds to support yourself and family and your COPR. Your PR card will then be sent to you by mail. If you’re living outside of Canada, your immigration interview will be conducted at the port of entry when you arrive.
Processing fee for the Start-up Visa program
The processing fee must be included in your application submission. Your application fee is $2,140 which includes the processing fee ($1,625) and right of permanent residence fee ($515). If you’re travelling with family, the fee for your partner or spouse is $1,365 (including the permanent residence fee of $515); a dependent child’s fee is $230 (they are exempt from the right of permanent residence fee).
How much time does it take for Start-up Visa applications to be processed?
Currently, SUV applicants can expect the entire process to take approximately 32 months. This can vary based on the completion status of your application, the ease with which your information can be verified, and any pending backlog of applications.
Apply for a temporary work permit
While your application for PR is being processed, you can apply for a temporary work permit to move to Canada sooner, and start building your business. This step is optional, however obtaining a work permit can ease your transition to Canada by enabling you to set up your business as you wait for the decision on your Start-up Visa application. You can apply for a work permit once you meet the eligibility requirements for the SUV program, before or after submitting your PR application.
To be eligible to apply for a temporary work permit, you must:
- Plan to live in a province or territory outside Quebec.
- Have a letter of support issued by a designated entity showing you’re an essential worker and that you need a work permit.
- Provide proof that you have enough money to support yourself and your family for a 52-week period.
- Submit your “self-employed” offer of employment
Submitting your self-employed offer of employment
Before you can complete your application for a temporary work permit, you need to submit your offer of employment, as well as pay the employer compliance fee of $230. Since you’re an SUV program applicant and are self-employed, you act as the employer and submit the offer of employment for yourself.
The method used to submit your offer of employment depends on whether, or not, you’ve registered with the Canada Revenue Agency and received your CRA business number.
If you have a CRA business number
If you have a CRA business number, you must submit your offer of employment through the Employer Portal. First you must enrol in the portal as an employer, then log in and select ‘Submit an offer of employment’ to begin the process. You will need to complete four forms:
- Business information – Provide the physical address of the business location, business details, and primary contact information for your business.
- Foreign worker – Provide personal information as it appears on your passport.
- Job details – Provide a brief description of the work you’ll be doing, that you are an entrepreneur seeking to establish or operate your business in Canada, and you are essential to the start-up of your business as per section 8.0 of the Commitment Certificate. Your job title should be ‘Start-up Visa entrepreneur’.
- Wage and benefits – Here is where you indicate your wages are ‘0’ and you’re a self-employed entrepreneur. You should also demonstrate that you have the required amount of settlement funds.
Once all four forms are complete, submit the offer of employment and pay the compliance fee. An offer of employment number will then be available in ‘Employment queue’ section of the portal. This number is required for your temporary work permit application.
If you do not have a CRA business number
If you don’t have a CRA business number for your company yet, you must request to submit an offer of employment by emailing the Employer Portal with your:
- Full name, date of birth, and place of birth as listed on your passport
- Country of citizenship
- Business name, if known
- Business contact address, if known
If your request is approved, you will receive an email with the Offer of Employment to a Foreign National Exempt from a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) form (IMM 5802), along with instructions on where to return the completed form. You must pay your employer compliance fee using the Pay your fees tool before completing the form and include the receipt number on the IMM 5802.
When filling out the Offer of Employment to a Foreign National Exempt from a Labour Market Impact Assessment form, leave the CRA business number blank, enter your title as ‘Start-up Visa entrepreneur’, and follow the instructions to submit an offer of employment outside of the employer portal. When complete, save the form as a PDF file and attach it to an email as instructed in your authorization email. (Don’t click “Submit by Email”.)
Once you’ve submitted your offer of employment and have all your required documents ready, you can apply for a temporary work permit online or by paper. You need to provide either your offer of employment number (if you applied through the portal) or your complete IMM 5802 form (if you did not apply via the portal) in your application. You may also need to provide medical exam results and a police certificate.