Top 3 ways for business owners to come to Canada

Business people with experience and capital to invest have several pathways to choose from in order to immigrate to Canada. They include the Owner/Operator LMIA program, the Start-Up Visa program, the Intra-company Transfer (ICT), the Treaty Investor programs, Reciprocal Work permits, PNP business streams (including Quebec Investor Program), and Significant Benefit Work Permits.

In this article we will explore the top 3 types of business immigration programs available for foreign business people. We’ve selected these top 3 programs since they can be used by any business person, entrepreneur or investor who wants to relocate to Canada by owning and managing a business.

However, if you think none of these programs is a good fit for your particular situation, contact us to see if we can find you a business immigration program that fits your situation.

So, here is our list of the top 3 business immigration programs available in Canada in 2020:

  1. The Intra-company Transfer work permit;
  2. The Owner/Operator LMIA work permit; and
  3. The Significant Benefit (C11) work permit.

Below you’ll find details for each program.

Intra-Company Transferee Work Visa (ICT)

This visa works best for entrepreneurs who already have an existing business abroad and want to run an affiliate or new business in Canada. This visa allows business owners to relocate to Canada and establish a new business in Canada. Entrepreneurs who would like to pursue the ICT work visa must incorporate their company in Canada and provide a detailed business plan that includes financial forecasts and a hiring plan. Their existing business also must have been in operation in another country for at least 12 months. If these conditions are fulfilled, a 1-year work permit may be granted to work in Canada. The initial ICT work permits can be extended for 5-6 years provided that the foreign entrepreneur meets the following conditions:

  • Having active business in their home country;
  • Having active business in Canada;
  • Having a physical office in Canada;
  • Having at least 1 Canadian employee.

Advantages of the ICT Program:

  • Relatively quick application (2 weeks – 3 months);
  • No minimum investment amount, but investment must make sense given the business plan;
  • Available for start-ups;
  • Available to any nationality;
  • Available for business owners, managers, and key personnel;
  • Can include non-for-profit organizations;
  • No median wage requirements for executives and managers;
  • No requirement to relocate to Canada on a full-time basis (e.g. business owners can divide working hours between offices in Canada and foreign company);
  • No minimum language requirements.

Disadvantages of the ICT Program:

  • Requires existing foreign company outside of Canada;
  • The Canadian company must be owned by the foreign company or by the same shareholders that own the foreign company;
  • The foreign company must continue to operate (not suitable for the business owners who want to sell the foreign company and relocate to Canada);
  • Transferee must have employee relationship with the foreign company and Canadian company;
  • Not best model for tax saving purposes;
  • Business owners will get a work permit first and can transition to permanent residency only after 1 year of employment in Canada.

Who is eligible under the ICT Program: 

  • Business owners who have been working in a foreign company for at least 12 months in the past 3 years;
  • Managers who have been working in a foreign company for at least 12 months in the past 3 years;
  • Key workers who have been working in a foreign company for at least 12 months in the past 3 years.

Requirements for the foreign company:

  • The company must be a legal entity and have registration under the foreign legislation;
  • The company must be actively engaged in business in the home country;
  • The company must have financial capacity to expand to Canada (although there is no minimum requirement, we recommend having at least $100,000 in gross revenue to meet this requirement);
  • The company should have a physical location (warehouse/office) and preferably employees;
  • The company must continue to do business in the home country, while business owners work in Canada.

Initial Investment for the ICT Program:

No minimum investment amount is required, but the foreign company (or the owner) must show sufficient funds in his/her bank account to start its operations in Canada. We recommend that applicants show at a minimum of around CAD$100,000.

Required Documents for the ICT program:

  • Foreign company’s registration and ownership documents;
  • Proof of active engagement in business for the foreign company (e.g. tax payments; bank statements; financial statements; licenses, permits and office lease; insurance/wage payments for employees, marketing material, contracts etc.);
  • Business owner’s personal documents (educational diplomas, employment letters, passport, marriage certificate, passport photo, bank statement);
  • Business owner’s documents confirming his employment at the foreign company for at least 12 months in the past 3 years (salary slips, dividend payments, employment insurance records etc.)
  • Canadian company’s registration and ownership documents (can be provided by your lawyer in Canada)
  • A business plan for the Canadian company (can be provided by your lawyer in Canada).

The validity of the initial work permit for the ICT Program:

  • 1-year work permit for new businesses/start-ups;
  • 2-year work permit for established companies.

Family Members:

Family members can join the main applicant. The spouse may get an open work permit and children may get study permits. Children may attend a public school for free.

Access to health care:

The applicant and the family members can get access to free health care during the validity of their work permits.

Processing time for the ICT Work Permit:

1– 3 months on average

Conditions for the ICT work permit renewal:

Within the first year of operations, the company in Canada must demonstrate the following:

  • Active engagement in business (it does not have to be profitable, but the company must be active).
  • There is a physical office for the company in Canada (not virtual office or home-based office)
  • There is at least 1 employee working for the company in Canada.

How to get permanent residency using the ICT Program:

  • Step 1: Establish a company in Canada.
  • Step 2: Obtain a work permit to work in Canada as a Senior Executive or Manager;
  • Step 3: Operate your business in Canada for at least 12 months;
  • Step 4: Pass language test at CLB level 7 for each band;
  • Step 4: Apply for permanent residence using the “Job Offer” stream under the Express Entry program.

Costs & Expenses for the ICT program:

To obtain the initial work permit: legal fees start from $25,000 (per family) and may increase depending on the complexity of the application.

Business operational costs in the first year: Minimum $50,000.

We suggest setting aside at least $150,000 – $200,000 to demonstrate to the Visa Office that you/your company has sufficient funds to expand to Canada.

Owner/Operator LMIA-based work visas

Owner/Operator work permits are available to foreign investors who wish to purchase a business or establish a new business in Canada and who want to work in that business in a managerial position. Typically, these professionals aim to immigrate to Canada permanently. Investors who are granted this type of visa will be required to become an employee of his/her Canadian company. This means that the company must demonstrate that it is able to pay the applicant a wage that meets Canada’s median wage requirements for that occupation.

This is a two-step application. First, a businessperson must apply to the Employment and Skill Development Canada (ESDC) office to obtain a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Once they have received a positive LMIA, the applicant can obtain a work visa that is valid for up to 2 years.

Once a work visa is obtained, in most cases, the applicant will be in a position to apply for permanent residence through the Express Entry program.

Advantages of the Owner-Operator Program:

  • No minimum investment amount, but investment must make sense given the business plan;
  • Available to any nationality;
  • No requirement for pre-existing foreign company;
  • No need to maintain operation of foreign company;
  • No minimum language requirements;
  • Ability to apply for permanent residence immediately upon receiving a positive LMIA.

Disadvantages of the Owner-Operator Program:

  • Not suitable for start-up companies;
  • Requires existing Canadian company with adequate financial performance;
  • Requires investment to purchase at least 51% of shares without guarantee of success;
  • Not the best model for the tax purposes;

Who is eligible under the Owner-Operator Program: 

A foreign investor who at least 51% of shares in the Canadian business.

Program requirements:

  1. Active company in Canada that has been operational preferably for at least 12 months.
  2. Sufficient revenue or funds available for the company to support the employment of its foreign owner-operator;
  3. Active management of the business by the foreign owner;
  4. Employing at least one Canadian or permanent resident ideally in the first year of employment of the foreign owner.

‍Initial Investment:

No minimum investment amount is specified, but the business owners should have sufficient funds to buy a business in Canada (usually $100,000+). In addition, the newly purchased Canadian company must show solid revenues for the past 12 months or sufficient funds in its bank account to pay the salary of the foreign owner (we recommend setting aside additional CAD$100,000 in liquid funds).

Required Documents:

  • Proof of ownership of the Canadian company by the foreign national (registration documents or Share Purchase Agreement).
  • Proof of sufficient revenue or funds in the bank account for the Canadian company;
  • Proof of legitimacy of the business in Canada (e.g. marketing material, website, agreements, office rent, invoices etc.)
  • Foreign owner’s personal documents (educational diplomas, employment letters, passport, marriage certificate, passport photo, bank statements, proof of business experience & managerial experience, etc.);
  • A business plan for the Canadian company (can be arranged by our office).

The validity of the initial work permit:

Two years

Conditions for work permit renewal:

Foreign investors will be able to renew their work permits in Canada for another 2- 6 years, as long as the company in Canada is able to demonstrate that it is actively engaged in business and has meet all the employment conditions for its foreign owner, as stipulated in the initial application.

Family Members:

Family members can join the main applicant.  The spouse may get a work permit and children may get a study permit. Children may attend a public school for free. 

Access to healthcare:

The applicant and the family members can get access to free health care during the validity of their visas.

Processing times:

Generally, 2-6 months to get an LMIA approval.

Ability to stay permanently:

Foreign owner-operators of Canadian companies have solid chances of becoming permanent residents of Canada and subsequently Canadian citizens, provided that they meet the following conditions:

  • Have at least 1-year college degree equivalency;
  • English/French at CLB level 7.

Expenses:

Starting from $25,000 in legal fees (depending on the applicant’s background, experience, language skills and citizenship);

Suggested investment amount: we suggest setting aside at least $150,000 – $200,000 to buy a business in Canada and another 100,000+ to operate it during the first 1-2 years of your employment in the business.

Significant Benefit Work Visa (C11)

This visa (referred to as the C-11 visa) works best for entrepreneurs who have unique businesses or specialized business know-how. The significant benefit work visa is also ideal for artists, sports people and investors, since applicants need to demonstrate how their business or intended project will be either socially, culturally or economically beneficial to Canada.

Important factors for this type of work visa are uniqueness and the viability of the intended business or project in Canada. Such businesses or projects need to demonstrate that they offer a significant contribution to Canada that current residents and citizens could not provide.

Professionals must present evidence of past personal accomplishments in business, such as operating a unique business. They must also be able to demonstrate demand for their products/services, how many offices they operate, the number of workers hired, the amount of revenue generated, sales of a self-designed product, etc.

For many years this type of work visa has been used by professional athletes, actors, dancers, and scientists, but recently it has become a viable option for accomplished business people. This group of applicants should be able to provide evidence of public recognition, for example international interest, media coverage or important clientele.

Who is eligible under the Significant Benefit (C11) program: 

Business owners who have unique businesses that provide unusual goods/services or know-how and intend to expand their business in Canada.

Program requirements:

Establish a company in Canada and demonstrate that the intended business would generate economic, social or cultural benefits to permanent residents or citizens of Canada.

Initial Investment:

No minimum investment amount, but the foreign company (or the owner) must show sufficient funds in his/her bank account to start its operations in Canada (we recommend around CAD$100,000).

Required Documents:

  • Proof of business accomplishments or uniqueness of business or specialized know-how (e.g. patent applications, news articles, sketches, marketing materials, etc.);
  • Applicant’s personal documents (educational diplomas, employment letters, passport, marriage certificate, passport photo, bank statements, proof of business experience and recognition such as prizes, news articles, international offers, etc.);
  • A business plan for the Canadian company (this can be provided by a lawyer in Canada).

The validity of the initial work permit:

2-year work permit, renewable unlimited times.

Conditions for visa renewal:

Within the first 2 years, the Canadian company must make progress towards its goals, and the business must be operational (no profits are required).

Family Members:

Family members can join the main applicant. The spouse may get a work permit and children may get a study permit. Children may attend a public school for free. 

Access to health care:

The applicant and the family members can get access to free health care during the validity of their visas.

Processing time:

Generally, 10 days – 3 months

Ability to stay permanently:

Applicants have solid chances of becoming permanent residents of Canada and subsequently Canadian citizens, provided that they meet the following conditions:

  • Have operated their company in Canada for at least 1 year;
  • Have at least 1-year college degree equivalency;
  • English/French at CLB level 7.

Expenses:

Starting from $25,000 in legal fees (depending on the applicant’s background, experience, language skills and citizenship);

Around $50,000 – minimum set-up and operation costs of the business in the first year. We suggest investing at least $150,000 – $200,000 into the new Canadian corporation to increase the strength of your application.

Get in touch with us if you would like to benefit from any of the above-noted pathways to Canada. Sobirovs Law Firm specializes in bringing established foreign businesses and brands to Canada.

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