What Do Business Owners Need to Know About Operating in Canada?


A founding partner of Abramovich & Tchern, Ksenia started her legal career at one of Canada’s top immigration firms, where she operated her own immigration law practice, with a focus on corporate and individual immigration applications.
business owners

What Are The Benefits of Opening A Business In Canada?

Canada is a fantastic place to start a new business or invest in one. It offers a number of benefits, including:

  • Lower corporate taxes than many other countries, including the U.S.
  • Stable connections to the U.S. and the wider world, with 550 ports and more than a dozen international airports.
  • High quality of life — Canada ranked second (after Germany) on the 2021 Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index. And research shows that people are up to 13% more productive when they’re happy.

However, there’s a common misconception that foreign nationals automatically qualify to become a permanent resident if they start a business in Canada or invest in one. That’s not the case: Canadian immigration programs for foreign business owners and investors require proof that applicants play an active part in the day-to-day running of the company.

Getting A Canadian Work Permit Is The First Step

First, business owners and investors from outside Canada need to obtain a work permit. Then, they can claim ‘job offer’ points on their express entry profile after working for their company for at least one year. As a result, they would be eligible to apply for permanent residence in Canada under one of the various Express Entry pathways.

As immigration lawyers in Toronto, the most common application types we prepare for business owners and investors are:

  • C11 Significant Benefits
  • Intra-Company Transfer (ICT)
  • CUSMA Investor/Trader
  • Provincial Nomination Programs for Entrepreneurs (available in Ontario, British Columbia, and Manitoba)

Below, we’ll take a close look at each type.

Applying Under The C11 Significant Benefits Pathway

Under the C11 Significant Benefits Pathway, entrepreneurs can apply for a permit to work for themselves or to operate their business in Canada. They need to demonstrate that being granted entry to Canada would bring significant benefits to the country (either economic, social, or cultural). They may also show that their entry would provide Canadian citizens and permanent residents with valuable work opportunities.

Key criteria for this application includes having majority ownership (at least 51%) of the business. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) would assess several points when evaluating applications, such as:

  • Does the applicant have relevant skills or employment history that improves the business’s viability?
  • Does the applicant have a business plan that shows they’ve taken clear steps to start their enterprise?

If granted entry, a business owner can qualify for permanent residency by gathering points on their profile (based on the national occupation code of the job offer or work permit). That would boost their overall cumulative ranking score and their chances of being invited to apply.

Applying For An Intra-Company Transfer

Business owners with an established company overseas can set up a branch office in Canada and transfer as a manager or executive. Successful applicants will receive a temporary work permit, and family members may join them. To be eligible, foreign nationals must be an executive, senior manager, or have specialized knowledge.

Requirements for ICT applications include:

  • The foreign and Canadian entities must be related, such as an affiliate or a subsidiary.
  • The foreign entity should have the financial stability to support the Canadian company and its staff.
  • Realistic plans are in place to hire employees for the Canadian entity, primarily Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
  • Securing premises for the Canadian entity or planning to.

Foreign nationals can make an express entry profile after working for the Canadian entity for one year, then start claiming job-offer points.

Applying Under The Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)

CUSMA superseded the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in July 2020. This enables citizens of the U.S., Mexico, or Canada involved in certain professional activities to gain temporary entry. You can read more about CUSMA in our Work Permits Pursuant to International Free Trade Agreements post.

Some of the most important requirements for eligibility include:

  • The applicant has American or Mexican citizenship.
  • The enterprise has American or Mexican nationality.
  • Significant money has been invested into the business, or is actively being invested. No minimum dollar figure applies: an investment’s value is typically determined by a “proportionality test”. This weighs the figure against the amount usually considered necessary to establish a viable business of its type, or the enterprise’s overall value.
  • The applicant is looking for entry exclusively to grow the enterprise and direct it.
  • If the applicant is an employee of the business, they hold an executive or supervisory position requiring essential skills.
  • The applicant complies with existing measures that apply to foreign nationals seeking temporary entry.

Investors must have funds committed to the business to qualify, rather than simply intending to invest.

Applying Through Provincial Entrepreneur Programs (PNP)

PNPs are for foreign nationals applying directly to their preferred province rather than IRCC. As a result, the relevant province is required to either approve or refuse an application. Provinces operating Entrepreneurial Streams have their own lists of requirements that applicants must meet. These typically relate to:

  • The number of jobs a business will create.
  • Minimum investment amounts.
  • Minimum net worths.

Foreign nationals must formally express their interest to the province, which will assign a score to them. Provinces conduct draws under Entrepreneur Streams and invite applicants at or above the cut-off score to submit their application. PNPs are fairly similar to C11 Significant benefits and ICT programs.

When a province approves someone into the program, they will sign a PNP agreement. They will receive a nomination certificate upon meeting all conditions stipulated in that agreement. Next, the individual will file their application for permanent residence directly to the relevant province.

Abramovich & Tchern helps clients complete applications for a number of Entrepreneur PNPs, including:

We’ll ensure you understand the requirements for your chosen PNP, then create a compelling application for you.

How to Make Your Application To Start or Invest in a Business in Canada

Applying for temporary entry into Canada is a complex, time-consuming process. It can be challenging, especially when you currently run a business or are in the process of launching one.

As experienced immigration lawyers, we’ve successfully advocated for companies and individuals from across the globe. Contact our team today to find out how we can help you bring your enterprise to Canada!

Ksenia Tchern

A founding partner of Abramovich & Tchern, Ksenia started her legal career at one of Canada’s top immigration firms, where she operated her own immigration law practice, with a focus on corporate and individual immigration applications.