Canada's Work Permits for Entrepreneurs

Last updated: 25 May 2023

Entrepreneur work permit canada

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

This CanadaVisa page provides an overview of how you can get a Canadian work permit if you are an entrepreneur.

Navigating Canada's work permit options can be difficult but we seek to make it as easy for you as possible. Cohen Immigration Law is a leading Canadian immigration law firm with over 45 years of expertise.

Please complete our contact form if you wish to schedule a free telephone consultation with our work permit lawyers.


Several Canadian permanent resident immigration programs target entrepreneurs, but the process can take longer than it would otherwise be for a temporary stay in Canada. For this reason, many entrepreneurs first enter Canada by obtaining a temporary work permit. Due to the fact that 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 work permit options available to entrepreneurs.

CUSMA Investor

Under the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement or CUSMA (formerly known as 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. The CUSMA 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. As part of the application, the investor must prepare 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 irrevocably 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.

CETA Investor

Under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, citizens of European Union member states who invest in new or existing businesses in Canada may be eligible to apply for Investor work permits so they can manage their Canadian business. This category is similar to the CUSMA Investor stream.

Other Investor Streams under Canada's Free Trade Agreements

Canada also operates Investor streams under some of its other free trade agreements. Examples include the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and he Canada-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement.

Intra-Company Transfer

Entrepreneurs who plan to continue to operate an existing foreign business while also expanding into Canada may qualify for an Intra-Company Transfer 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 wanting to establish a new business in Canada.

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 Canadian branch, subsidiary or affiliate. The basic requirements of the program are as follows:

  • The new Canadian business must pass a viability test, which can be achieved by providing financial information, evidence that physical premises have been secured, and a business plan that provides for the hire of at least one Canadian citizen or permanent resident during the first year of operations.
  • The foreign company and the Canadian businesses must be related in terms of their ownership structure. Specifically, the two companies must have either a parent-branch, parent-subsidiary, or affiliate relationship.
  • The person being transferred to manage the new Canadian business must have been employed by the foreign business looking to transfer them for at least one year in a similar full-time senior managerial or executive position.

Entrepreneurs/self-employed candidates seeking to operate a business

An Entrepreneur/self-employed work permit may be an option for entrepreneurs who are the sole or majority owner of a Canadian business or in cases where the owner of the Canadian business intends to maintain a primary residence outside Canada. In such cases the work permit could be exempt from the need for the Canadian government's labour market test, known as an "LMIA" or Labour Market Impact Assessment.

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 permanent resident status through one of Canada’s business immigration programs.

    Contact the Cohen Immigration Law Firm for Assistance

    Do you need work permit assistance? The Cohen Immigration Law Firm can help. Cohen Immigration Law offers over 45 years of expertise assisting workers and employers obtain Canadian work permits.

    Please contact us to schedule a free telephone consultation with one of our lawyers.

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