Skip to content

Business Immigration to Canada

An atmospheric overview of temporary and permanent business immigration to Canada

Temporary and Permanent Business Immigration Pathways to Canada

There are 3 broad based categories of applicants that are outlined in the Immigration Refugees and Protection Act (IRPA) to Canada to immigrate permanently: family class, refugee, and economic class.

As for the economic class, they can be broken down further into two categories 

A) Business Owners

B) Workers 

If you meet certain criteria and are not inadmissible, you can immigrate to Canada by working in a job or immigrate to Canada as a business owner to partake in business activities. In either case, both if done correctly serve to benefit Canada economically. Keep in mind in any case, immigrating to Canada is competitive. 

Outside the immigration context, business owners can refer to entrepreneurs, self-employed individuals, businesspeople, owner/operators, and any other term to refer to an individual that owns a company in which they perform work for. This page covers most of the options available to foreign business owners. 

For seasoned business owners, it is not always clear what is the best province, program, stream, pathway and depends on many personal factors, business factors and more. We are providing an overall atmospheric view of some of the immigration pathways a prospective business owner has at their disposal in immigrating to Canada and will continue to update this page with links, content and features that elaborate in further detail on each specific pathway. 

Permanent Residence Specific Programs for Business Owners 

These are the 3 defined ways in the Immigration, Refugee and Protection Regulations to obtain permanent residence in Canada based upon participating in business activities and being a business owner in Canada. 

Startup Business Class aka Startup Visa Program 

Designed for foreign startup business entrepreneurs who either receive acceptance into a designated business incubator or receive investment capital ranging from $75,000 – $200,000 from a designated angel group or designated venture capital fund for their startup company. It must be a startup business model and not a traditional business model. 

Federal Self-Employed Permanent Residence Program 

Designed for self-employed individuals in the arts and athletic industries only. This is a direct permanent residence pathway to help onshore the world's best artists, creatives, and athletes to achieving permanent status in Canada. In addition to meeting a few requirements, your self-employed occupation must be NOC 5xxx (artists and athletes), which makes this stream very limited and excludes most overseas business owners in traditional industries: manufacturing, hospitality, construction etc. 

Provincial Nomination Programs for Entrepreneurs 

Each province is allocated a certain number of nominations for permanent residence annually by IRCC. The provinces respectively can utilize these nominations in ways they see fit and to benefit the economic development of their province. As a result, each province has different pathways with varying eligibility requirements for entrepreneurs depending on the resettling and economic advantage they are targeting. For example, in Ontario, Canada’s most popular and populous province, their entrepreneur program in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is highly competitive, with high-net-worth requirements and a high Expression of Interest (EOI) score. In rural Alberta, the requirements for establishing or purchasing a business while obtaining permanent residency is comparatively much less competitive, with lower net worth requirements and virtual exploratory visits considered as opposed to in-person visits. 

Temporary Pathways to Operating a Business in Canada 

There are a few ways to obtain a work permit to come to Canada and operate a business however, none of these programs listed have a defined or guaranteed pathway to remain in Canada as a permanent resident. Circumstances can and do change in the immigration context. Sometimes a pathway becomes possible through a dependent spouse after they have worked in Canada or becomes possible when a single business owner meets a Canadian or PR while in Canada through sponsorship. Other avenues may present themselves after working and residing in Canada for some time when partnerships are formed and connections are made. 

For some applicants, a temporary to permanent pathway is sometimes the only option, if they do not qualify for a direct to PR pathway. In cases where the owner simply wants to explore Canada, and Canadian business opportunities, it is the preferred option. 4 common examples of work permits granted that are pertinent to business owners are included below but are not necessarily exhaustive. 

LMIA Exempt C11 (Entrepreneurs/Self-Employed) Work Permit 

This exemption was implemented by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to allow business owners to temporarily enter Canada on a work permit to operate their own business. Since the eligibility requirements are very subjective and broad based, a lot of discretion is left up to the officer in these applications and a comprehensive application with supporting documentation and a business plan is required. The work permit can be approved for a year if the applicant is admissible to Canada and will engage in work that will be of benefit to Canada: economically, socially, and/or culturally. The work permit can be renewed before the 1-year expiry. It will be granted if the applicant can substantiate, they are creating or on the path to creating significant cultural, social and/or economic benefit. 


  • Can be eligible for 2-week GSS processing 
  • Business does not have to be established yet 


  • Challenging and comprehensive, convincing application is required 
  • Work permits only granted for 1 year initially 
  • Points for arranged employment only count after 1 year of work 

LMIA and Work Permit 

Contrary to public opinion, the Owner/Operator program is not dead. It has changed permanently, and no longer has an LMIA advertising exemption, but it is still an option for certain applicants. This is further proven with additional owner/operator skills that were added to the Canadian Job Bank for LMIA advertising. An LMIA is simply an arranged offer of employment granted by Service Canada that shows that issuance of a work permit would not have a negative impact on the labour market. The ownership of the business is irrelevant in the context of the Canadian business being granted an LMIA, however degrees of ownership in the business can constitute self-employment for the foreign national working there which does have implications on certain provincial programs and federal express entry (in particular, Canadian Experience Class).  


  • Points granted for arranged employment immediately from an LMIA 
  • LMIA’s now can result in 3-year work permit duration 


  • Business must be fully operational 
  • Canadian/PR partner is not technically required, but realistically is required considering the challenges of maintaining an operational business as a foreign national while waiting for status 

LMIA Exempt C12 (Intra-Company Transfer) Work Permit 

This is an employer specific work permit that lets a foreign national work in Canada temporarily to establish or grow operations of the Canadian branch of an international company. Generally, only upper management and specialized knowledge workers of this international company can transfer to work in Canada. 

In the business owner context, this works if a partner in a company is transferring to Canada to work/operate the Canadian branch. For a sole owner, it may not work to transfer to Canada, as IRCC would expect the sole owner to maintain the international operations. There must be a qualifying relationship between the Canadian enterprise and international operation. 


  • Can be eligible for expedited 2-week GSS processing 
  • Easier application than C11 if Canadian operation is already established, and foreign operations are established 


  • Must be a large, multinational company that will continue to operate when part-owner is transferred to Canada 
  • Must prove qualifying relationship and specialized knowledge, or managerial experience 
  • Must have been working for a foreign company for at least 1 year 

Open Work Permit 

A foreign national on an open work permit in Canada is allowed to start, operate, purchase, and run a business. Sometimes, this can be a favourable option for an entrepreneurial spouse whose partner is a skilled worker and functions as the principal applicant on a temporary residence application. 


  • Can choose almost any business to start in Canada 
  • Freedom and flexibility to work in a variety of businesses 


  • Your open work status is Canada is tied to the principal applicant
  • Your spouse or partner must be qualified as a skilled worker in Canada, and your status is based on their temporary status

Business Visitor Visa

Sometimes, a business visitor visa is the most viable option for seasoned business owners and professionals wanting to explore the Canadian business landscape. While this type of visa is only for visiting purposes, and does not enable a foreign national to participate in the labour market, they usually feature fast approvals and allow a foreign national to "try before you buy." A business visitor visa can allow you to explore options and partnership potential for expanding international operations in Canada.


  • Fast approvals and inexpensive process
  • Freedom and flexibility to explore business opportunities in Canada, perform exploratory visits and more


  • Cannot work or participate in the labour market
  • Only valid for visits up to 6 months


Which business immigration pathway should I choose? 

This depends on many factors including the personal circumstances of the applicant, the CRS score of the applicant and the dependent spouse (if applicable), the business experience of the applicant, the desired province of resettlement, the nature of the business intended to start, whether or not the business is purchased and already operational, the net worth of the applicant, liquid funds available of the applicant or spouse in some instances, the education of the applicant, English and or French skills of the applicant (and dependent if applicable), the competition relative to other applicants, processing times for each different stream and the list goes on. 

SJP Immigration Inc. is prepared to assist you in choosing the appropriate pathway unique to your circumstances based on our experience in navigating all these pathways and the various combinations and permutations. Contact us today for a consultation and how we can help you immigrate to Canada as a business owner. 

Immigration Blog

Updates from SJP Immigration Inc.