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Start-Up Visa Program

Canada’s Start-Up Visa Program offers pathway to permanent residence for entrepreneurs

Updated March 12, 2021. Foreign entrepreneurs who want to start businesses in Canada can apply under the Start-Up Visa Program and get Canadian permanent residence if they qualify as immigrant entrepreneurs. The Start-Up Visa Program invites eligible innovative entrepreneurs to Canada and links them with the Canadian private sector businesses, (angel investor groups, venture capital funds or business incubators) to facilitate the establishment and success of their start-up business in Canada.

Initially a three-year pilot, the Start-Up Visa Program was made permanent on March 31, 2018.

About Canada’s Start-Up Visa Program

Canada’s Start-up Visa Program targets immigrant entrepreneurs with the skills and potential to build businesses in Canada that:

  • are innovative
  • can create jobs for Canadians
  • can compete on a global scale

Do you have an innovative business idea? If you can get support for your idea from one of the designated organizations, you may be able to immigrate to Canada.

The Province of Quebec is in charge of its own business immigration program. If you plan to live in Quebec, visit Quebec’s immigration website.

The Start-Up Visa Program has significantly different selection criteria from the Express Entry skilled worker programs. Notably, successful candidates need to be endorsed by an entity that is designated by the Canadian government (an angel investor, venture capital firm, or business incubator). Such entities (designated organizations) are responsible for supporting the entrepreneur’s success once they come to Canada.

Almost every other federal and provincial business immigration programs requires a minimum of one or two years of previous experience either owning a business or in top-level management. The Start-Up Visa Program does not require previous management experience. 

The Start-Up Visa Program also represents an important option for international students, many of whom do not qualify for permanent residence through the skilled worker immigration streams.

Start-Up Visa Program candidates can initially come to Canada on a work permit supported by their designated organization, before qualifying for permanent residence once their business is up and running.

See also Canada increases Express Entry Settlement Funds for 2022.

Who can apply for the Start-up Visa Program

To be eligible for the Start-up Visa Program, you must:

Have a qualifying business

A qualifying business means you created a business that meets the following conditions.

  • The business meets the required ownership level and voting rights at the time you get a commitment from a designated organization
  • At the time you receive your permanent residence:
    • you provide active and ongoing management of this business from within Canada
    • an essential part of the operations of the business happens in Canada
    • this business is incorporated in Canada

Get a letter of support from a designated organization

You must get a letter of support from a designated organization (a business group that has been approved to invest in or support possible start-ups). See list of designated organizations.

You need to:

  • contact the designated organization to find out how to get its support
  • convince the organization that you have a business idea that is worth supporting
  • get a letter of support from the designated organization

There are three types of designated private-sector investor:

  1. Angel investor.
  2. Venture capital fund.
  3. Business incubator.

The required commitment are as follows:

  1. A designated angel investor group must invest at least $75,000 into the qualifying business. Candidates can also qualify with two or more investments from angel investor groups totalling $75,000.
  2. A designated venture capital fund must confirm that it is investing at least $200,000 into the qualifying business. Candidates can also qualify with two or more commitments from designated venture capital funds totalling $200,000.
  3. A designated business incubator must accept the applicant into its business incubator program.

It may take about four to six months to secure a commitment certificate or letter of support from a designated organization. Once that letter of support is received, the application for permanent residence can be submitted. It will then take approximately 18-months to the issuance of a permanent residence visa.

If you reach an agreement with a designated organization, it will send you a letter of support. You need to include this letter when you submit your application to IRCC. This is the proof you need to show that the venture capital fund, angel investor group, or business incubator is supporting your business idea.

If you don’t include the letter of support, IRCC will refuse your application.

The organization will also send a commitment certificate directly to IRCC which will use both your letter of support and the organization’s commitment certificate to assess your application.

Temporary work permit for Start-Up Visa Program candidates

While your application for permanent residence is being processed, you can apply for a temporary work permit to get to Canada and start building your business. See work permits for start-up visa applicants. Only foreign nationals who have received a Commitment Certificate and Letter of Support issued by a designated organization may be considered for a temporary work permit. The designated organization must support the request for a work permit. If you meet the eligibility requirements, you can apply for a work permit. You do not need to apply for permanent residence first.

Meet the language requirements

The ability to communicate and work in English, French or both languages will help your business succeed in Canada.

You must take a language test from an approved agency and include the results with your application. If you don’t, IRCC will not process your application. You must meet the minimum level of the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 5 in either English or French in all of these four areas:

  • speaking
  • reading
  • listening
  • writing

Use your test results to find your CLB level.

Bring enough money to settle

The Government of Canada does not give financial support to new start-up visa immigrants.

When you apply, you will need to give proof that you have the money to support yourself and your dependants after you arrive in Canada. You can’t borrow this money from another person.

The amount you need depends on the size of your family. IRCC updates these amounts every year but below are the 2021 amounts.

Number of
family members
Funds required
(in Canadian dollars)
For each additional family member$3,492

Find out how much it costs to live where you’re planning to settle in Canada.

How to apply for the Start-Up Visa Program

In most cases, you now need to give your fingerprints and photo (biometrics) after you apply. Find out where biometrics fits in the application process.

Watch: Before you arrive in Canada

This video will help you get ready for your new life in Canada. It will explain some of the things you should do before you leave your country of origin to make sure you’re prepared when you arrive in Canada.