Canada Immigration for Entrepreneurs – The Startup Visa Program in 2021 for High Caliber Entrepreneurs

War, political instability, corruption, economic crisis, discrimination – there are plenty of situations where an entrepreneur is forced to consider immigration as an option. And with the climate crisis and a global pandemic exacerbating existing fault lines across the world, the case for immigration will only strengthen further in the coming years.

Canada has emerged as a top destination for immigrants, particularly entrepreneurs in recent years. Government initiatives like the Start-up Visa program actively encourage talented and driven individuals to consider setting up their business in Canada.

That is just the icing on the proverbial cake – Canada also has a lot going for it elsewhere making it a top destination for immigrants.

Making a case for immigration to Canada is easy

Stability is ingrained in Canadian DNA – be it in politics, society, or economy. The country has an enviable record as a peaceful liberal democracy. With generally low rates of violent crime, excellent public healthcare and education, it is also a great place to live in.

As for the economy, it is one of the richest and most productive in the world – worth $2.26 trillion (2019) – making it the tenth-largest economy. A stable and well-developed banking system assures an easy availability of credit to entrepreneurs.

The Canadian startup scene is also quite exciting, particularly in hotspots like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. The VC ecosystem is quite vibrant in the country and plays a crucial role in the Startup Visa program for immigrant entrepreneurs.

The Start-up Visa Program at a glance

Officially, the Start-up Visa program (SUV) is called the Canada Start-Up Class by the immigration department. Launched in 2013 as a three-year pilot, it was made permanent by the government in 2018.

The objective of the SUV program is quite straightforward – attract talented investors from abroad to start innovative businesses in the country, contributing to the GDP and creating new jobs for Canadians.

The program works by matching selected entrepreneurs with certain “designated entities” in Canada – a select group of venture capital firms, angel investors, startup accelerators, and incubators. Entrepreneurs who qualify are fast-tracked to permanent resident status.

To qualify, candidates must have the following:

  • A qualifying business
  • Support from one of the designated entities
  • Proficiency in English/French – Canadian Language Benchmark level 5 
  • Sufficient funds to support self + family members (settlement funds)

Individuals who fulfill all four requirements can apply for a work permit and start working on their business in Canada. They can settle in the country with their dependents while waiting for the approval of the permanent residency.

Understanding the eligibility criteria for the Start-up Visa

In ordinary visa or immigration matters, the final decision rests with the government officials. The SUV program is a bit different in this regard – a candidate’s eligibility is largely determined by the designated entities.

Of course, the entrepreneur must be qualified to enter Canada – without a serious criminal record, a known security risk, or someone who poses a health threat. Language proficiency and financial capabilities aside, it is the support from the designated entity that matters the most.

And this has to be earned – the entrepreneur must approach and convince the VC/angel investor/accelerator/incubator about the viability of the business. Each entity is separate, with its criteria and expectations regarding eligible businesses.

But in general, the system gives preference to businesses or startup ideas based in IT, biotech, clean energy/sustainability fields. Some entities may require a running business venture, while others are fine with an innovative idea – but only if it is a well thought out idea in an advanced stage.

The government department – Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada – maintains a list of over 60 different designated organizations. Entrepreneurs have to pick the ones they want to approach from this list, based on factors like the type of business, which sector it is in, and so on.

Source: Investment Immigration

The significance of the SUV program

While Canada is immigrant-friendly, it does not have any shortcuts to permanent residency. Under existing programs, only skilled workers in specific fields and individuals with family connections in the country get fast-tracked to permanent resident status.

Otherwise, individuals must fulfill long residency + employment requirements in Canada before applying. That means some prior skilled work experience in Canada of at least 1-year duration.

The Start-Up Class offers something different, aimed squarely at ambitious and skilled entrepreneurs. No prior experience living or working in Canada is necessary when you take this route.

COVID 19 impact on Start-up Visa

Given the extensive travel restrictions in place, immigrating to any country in the world is virtually impossible. Barring a few exemptions for citizens, residents, and other essential services, Canada does not allow any overseas visitors into the country (early 2021).

But that does not mean that the SUV program has been cancelled. It is still in place and individuals may apply for permanent residency or work permits. But significant delays should be expected in the approval process, given the disruption caused by the virus.

Frequently asked questions about The Start-up Program

Who can apply for the Start-up visa program?

Any non-Canadian citizen with an exciting and innovative startup idea/business venture can apply for the program. It must be viable and compelling enough to convince one of the designated entities. If it is an active business, it should be incorporated in Canada and managed by the applicant.

How do I contact the designated entities?

The designated entities are investors, VCs, and incubators. Applicants should reach to the ones that focus on relevant industry/tech/sector with a business proposal/investment pitch. Usually, applicants seek the assistance of business consultants and lawyers specializing in this field.

Is it possible to settle in any part of Canada using a Start-up visa?

No, the SUV program does not cover the province of Quebec. It has its business immigration program. All other provinces in Canada use the SUV program.

How much money is needed to apply for a Start-up visa?

The application process itself requires a minimum of $2000. Apart from that, the most important figure is settlement funds – money required for basic survival in Canada until the business turns profitable. The legally required minimum is $12,960 for single individuals. Each additional family member will need approx. $3500.

How long does the application process take?

There are two different steps involved here. Getting a letter of support from a designated entity can take up to 6 months. After that, the application will take another 12 – 16 months to get processed into a permanent resident visa.

How many visas are granted under this program each year?

Before COVID, over 500 entrepreneurs gained permanent resident status through this program in 2019. This was double the number from 2018 and nearly ten times as many as in 2015. The program has been a success since its inception.

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Preetam Kaushik

An experienced business journalist, Preetam has written for the likes of WIRED, The Huffington Post, the World Economic Forum, The Street, Times of India and Business Insider. He holds an MBA in Finance from Alliance University and has previously worked for Deloitte and Fitch Ratings, informing the unique expertise that is a hallmark of his writing. He currently works as a digital success strategist and his work has been cited by numerous major media outlets, such as The Washington Post and Yahoo! Finance