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Canada: An immigration destination for self-employed cultural workers, musicians, artists and athletes

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Self-employed individuals have the possibility of becoming permanent residents in Canada, based on their work experience, and their intention to continue working for themselves.

Canada’s Federal Self-Employed Persons Program allows eligible individuals who have relevant experience in athletics, arts and culture to apply for Canadian permanent residence.

The program is aimed at a wide range of foreign nationals working in the arts and sports such as music teachers, painters, illustrators, filmmakers, freelance journalists or athletes. It also includes those working behind the scenes like choreographers, set designers, coaches and trainers.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) assesses candidates for the program based on their experience, intent and ability to create their own employment in Canada.

Candidates must demonstrate that they have at least two years of relevant experience, either (a) by taking part in “cultural or sporting activities at an international level”, which means that they are internationally known or perform at the highest level in their discipline; or (b) by being self-employed in the field of cultural or sporting activities.

Get help applying for the Self-Employed Persons Program

Candidates must also be able to contribute to what the federal government calls the “enrichment of Canadian culture and sport” and make “a significant contribution to specific economic activities” in the country. A music teacher destined for a small town may be considered to be of local importance, as may a freelance journalist writing for a Canadian publication, both of which are cited by the government as examples of what a significant contribution can be.

The extent of the contribution is, however, determined and left to the discretion of the visa officer processing the individual’s file.

To be considered for immigration as a self-employed person, interested candidates must also meet or exceed a minimum score under the program’s selection criteria.

Canada’s Federal Self-Employed Program is an excellent option for many people who may not qualify for some economic immigration programs and whose employment status or type of occupation may be limiting their Canadian immigration options.

There are economic immigration programs in Canada that do not take self-employment into account as part of the minimum work experience requirements.  Such is the case, for instance, of the Canadian Experience Class (CEC). CEC is one of three federal programs managed through the Express Entry application system and one that ranks candidates for immigration to Canada against each other on a point scale. Candidates are awarded points for various factors, such as age, education, skilled work experience and proficiency in English or French.  Earning points for Canadian work experience in specific occupations can be a key factor in determining whether a candidate’s score is high enough to receive an Invitation to Apply for permanent residence.

The federal self-employed program is not subject to such conditions and does not have a ranking system or competitive selection for candidates.

While long processing times under Canada’s federal self-employed program could have been a deterring factor in the past, this has now been rectified. Last year, IRCC provided an update on the situation and the federal government now reports processing times of 23 months— a major improvement over the seven years it took a few years ago.

Individuals interested in immigrating to Quebec should note that the province has a separate selection system for self-employed persons.

Contact an immigration lawyer who knows the Self-Employed Persons Program

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