Canadian Work Permits for Entrepreneurs

CIC News
Published: February 12, 2014

Foreign entrepreneurs have a range of options to come to Canada. With their innovative ideas and unique business expertise, these individuals help to drive economic growth across the country.

Several Canadian permanent resident immigration programs target entrepreneurs, but the process can be lengthy. For many entrepreneurs, the fastest way to enter Canada is by obtaining a temporary work permit. Once in the country, they can often leverage their Canadian work experience to support an application for permanent residency.

The temporary foreign worker program includes several options designed to bring entrepreneurial talent to Canada. Choosing the right program under which to apply is of the utmost importance. Below is a brief overview of the temporary work permit options available for entrepreneurs:

NAFTA Investor

Under the NAFTA agreement, 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 businesses. 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 detailing 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 a means of self support for 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 citizenship restrictions.

Intra-Company Transfer

Entrepreneurs who plan to continue to operate an existing business overseas while also expanding into Canada may qualify for Intra-Company Transferee work permits . 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 an excellent option if you plan to divide your time between managing your current overseas business and starting a new branch or subsidiary in Canada.

Other Work Permits for Business Owners

If you are investing in a Canadian business which is not related to an existing business overseas, you may consider either a C11 Entrepreneur work permit or an LMO-based work permit for owner operators.

  • A C11 Entrepreneur work permit may be an option if you 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. CIC 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 because permanent, year-round work in Canada falls outside the scope of the temporary foreign worker program. In this situation, you may consider either restructuring your business in Canada so that you qualify for another type of work permit or applying for a permanent resident visa through one of Canada’s Business Immigration programs.
  • If you are a minority owner of the Canadian business but plan to take an active role in day-to-day management, an Owner- Operator LMO-based work permit is an excellent option. An LMO (Labour Market Opinion) 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. LMOs are most commonly issued to companies which show that foreign workers are needed to fill temporary labour shortages in Canada. This process involves advertising the position extensively in Canada and can 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.

Advice for Entrepreneurs

Working as an entrepreneur in Canada is an exciting and rewarding endeavor. However, given the fact that entrepreneurs are often moving not just themselves but their businesses to Canada as well, obtaining Canadian work authorization can at times be difficult. Thankfully, Canada is keen to attract entrepreneurs, who are considered valuable members of the workforce.

“Entrepreneurs are seen as drivers of Canada’s economy that help to create Canadian jobs,” said Attorney David Cohen. “Many of our country’s most prominent entrepreneurs in fact came to Canada from abroad.”

When applying to work in Canada, entrepreneurs should make sure that they are fully aware of the range of options available for themselves, their families, and their businesses. These options can vary greatly depending on an individual’s professional experience as well as the nature of their business and its connections to Canada.

“Working with entrepreneurs who are seeking to balance their business objectives with work and immigration goals adds a new level of complexity to an application,” said Attorney Cohen. “However, their effort is more than worth it. Entrepreneurs benefit from an innovative, open economy, while our country is given the opportunity to house some of the world’s best new businesses.”

If you have questions about working as an entrepreneur in Canada, please contact

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