International entrepreneurs have a range of options to come and work in Canada.

With their innovative ideas and unique business expertise, entrepreneurial foreign workers help the Canadian economy to grow

Several Canadian permanent resident immigration programs target entrepreneurs, but the process can be longer than it would otherwise be for a temporary period in Canada. For this reason, many entrepreneurs first enter Canada by obtaining a temporary work permit. And because many of Canada’s economic immigration programs value Canadian work experience, entrepreneurs with such experience can leverage this in support of their candidacy or application for Canadian permanent resident status.

Below is an overview of the Canadian work permit options available to entrepreneurs.

NAFTA Investor

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), citizens of the United States or Mexico who invest in new or existing businesses in Canada may be eligible to apply for Investor work permits to manage their Canadian business(es). The NAFTA Investor program allows American or Mexican entrepreneurs who have already made a significant investment in a Canadian business to enter Canada to develop and direct that business. Typically, the investor is the majority shareholder or sole owner of the business in Canada. To apply, the investor must provide a business plan providing details of the total capital required to establish or purchase the business and provide evidence that a significant portion of these funds have already been committed to the project. There is an expectation that the business will generate jobs or other benefits to the local economy and will not be purely self-supporting to the investor.

While the NAFTA Investor work permit is only available to citizens of the US and Mexico, other types of entrepreneurial work permits have no such citizenship restrictions.

Intra-Company Transfer

Entrepreneurs who plan to continue to operate an existing business overseas while also expanding into Canada may qualify for an Intra-Company Transferee work permit. The Intra-Company Transfer program is primarily used by multinational corporations to move management and key staff between branches, but it can also be well suited for entrepreneurs.

The basic requirements for this program are as follows:

  • The new business in Canada must be viable. Viability can be demonstrated by providing a business plan, financial information and evidence that business premises have been leased in Canada. To qualify, the business plan must involve hiring at least one Canadian during the first year of operations.
  • The overseas and Canadian businesses must have common ownership. Specifically, the two companies must have a parent-branch, parent-subsidiary, or affiliate relationship.
  • The person being transferred to manage the Canadian business must have at least one year of full-time employment in an equivalent senior managerial or executive position with the overseas company.
  • Intra-company transfer is often a preferred option for entrepreneurs who plan to divide their time between managing their current overseas business and starting a new branch or subsidiary in Canada.

Other work permit options for business owners

Entrepreneurs investing in a Canadian business that is not related to an existing business overseas may consider either a C11 Entrepreneur work permit or a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA)-based work permit for owner operators.

  • A C11 Entrepreneur work permit may be an option for entrepreneurs who are the sole or majority owner of the Canadian business. This type of application is typically most successful for seasonal businesses or in cases where the business owner intends to maintain a primary residence outside Canada. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is reluctant to issue temporary work permits to business owners who plan to manage a permanent, year-round business in Canada on an indefinite basis. In such a situation, potential applicants may consider either restructuring their business in Canada so that they may become eligible for another type of work permit, or applying for a permanent resident visa through one of Canada’s business immigration programs.
  • Entrepreneurs who are minority owners of a Canadian business, but who plan to take an active role in day-to-day management, may consider an Owner/Operator LMIA-based work permit. A LMIA is a document issued by the government confirming that hiring a foreign worker will have a positive or neutral effect on the local labour market. The LMIA process would typically involve the company advertising the position extensively in Canada, and can therefore be time consuming. However, if the foreign worker is an owner-operator with minority ownership, no advertising is required. Instead, the Canadian company can demonstrate that the foreign entrepreneur’s management of the business will actively benefit the local labour market. Factors considered include job creation, maintaining existing jobs, and transferring skills to Canadian employees.

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