Canada is welcoming 401,000 new permanent residents this year, and many of those who immigrate will be entrepreneurs, innovators or owners of established businesses. While the doors may be open, there are several different routes to a successful permanent residency (PR) application — some are more complicated and take longer, and some are better for people connected to business.
It helps to understand the differences. For those seeking or planning to immigrate and for lawyers who help and advise them, it’s important to recognize the different pathways to a successful application result and to know about which ones are more straightforward.
Many of the best pathways to PR are the ones designed for business owners and entrepreneurs. It’s a win-win situation. Canadians benefit from businesses that become established and create jobs in Canada
and the immigration system recognizes this.
Even within the system though, there are various routes and some of these will inevitably be more suitable for prospective immigrants than others, depending on the skills and investment they are bringing.
One of the most expeditious pathways for business people is through the federal Intra-company Transfer (ICT) program. It allows those who work for companies that have branches, affiliates or subsidiaries in Canada to work for the same company here as they do abroad.
The ICT program can save time in the immigration process because it’s a pathway that’s exempt from a review called the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) that is otherwise required when jobs are offered to foreign nationals who want to live and work temporarily in Canada. The LMIA looks at whether there someone already in Canada who could do and be offered the job; under ICT, the company can hire the arriving person when they meet certain requirements.
ICT is not open to everyone. Applicants need to meet certain qualifications, including having worked for at least 12 months during the last three years at an overseas company that meets Canada’s specifications. The program is open to executives, senior managers and people with specialized knowledge or skills who are transferred to Canada by their companies.
The advantages are that under this type of transfer it takes less time to process a work permit. A federal policy called the Global Skills Strategy offers processing for those who qualify within two weeks (although this may take longer right now because of COVID-19).
Work permits can be issued for long periods and they are straightforward to renew. Another advantage for applicants is that they can also apply for admission for spouses and family. Fees are relatively low and there is no minimum investment required, and because applicants are bringing managerial or other skills to their company’s work, they don’t have to meet the fluency requirements for Canada’s official languages in the same way that other categories demand.
The ICT program has advantages for companies too. Struggling businesses or those that are changing their products or services can still bring in qualified employees, and a business can look at bringing several international workers at a time to meet its needs.
For a prospective immigrant’s standpoint, the biggest advantage is that an ICT admission can be a step toward being invited to apply for permanent residence. ICT transferees are eligible to be considered in the Canadian Experience Class under Express Entry after working in Canada for one year; during that time they can learn more about Canada, become acclimatized, improve their English and/or French and even get used to the weather.
There’s a disadvantage to ICT for some prospective applicants though, and it’s the same as the advantage —it’s a stepping-stone to the PR application. Some who set their minds right away on immigration will be turned off by having this additional step of waiting at least a year.
Another pathway for business owners and entrepreneurs is to start up a company in Canada and apply for permanent residence under the Start-up Visa Program. After you have applied for PR, you can even secure a work permit to get your business going before your PR is even fully processed .
The advantage of the Start-up Visa Program is that it is not a stepping-stone in the PR process — startup applicants can come to Canada on a work permit at the same time as having their PR application processed. The work permit is also LMIA-exempt and has fast processing times.
There are a few disadvantages in coming to Canada to work for one’s own startup under this program. Only the person essential to the startup can come on a work permit to start the business. Owner/workers can also get into tricky relationships with partners and investors, which may complicate their process.
Startup applicants need to invest in their new companies and the work permits granted can be shorter than the ICT permits. Applicants also are liable and obligated to their business and the process of keeping a business going in Canada, both before and after permanent residency is obtained — is at a level of responsibility much higher than under ICT.
Prospective business immigrants should also consider various provincial entrepreneurship programs — Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, for example, all offer pathways.
The point is that for the business-minded, there is more than one pathway to immigrate to Canada. It’s not one size fits all — but it’s likely that one program will be best for you.

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