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Immigration to Canada for the smart or rich. Start-up Visa Program overview

Immigration to Canada for the smart or rich. Start-up Visa Program overview

A reliable way to immigrate: any age, no higher education, basic English, and no score system.

It does happen, but it's for the smart or well-off. Let me lay out the full requirements for the Start-up Visa Program, share my own experience applying, and give you some tips to help you secure a residency permit.

My family and I applied to move to Canada back in 2011 under the Quebec program. Since it's a French-speaking region, we had to learn French. But I wasn't keen on that, and — I'll get ahead of myself — our application took a lengthy 5 years to process. So, I tried to explore other ways to get permanent residency in Canada. At that time, the Express Entry system didn't exist, and the rules were very different.

Launch of the Start-up Visa Program

On April 1, 2013, the Start-up Visa immigration program was launched as a pilot project. It sounded perfect for me. I was deeply interested in start-ups, creating my own, and if you check out my project, Immigrant.Today, you'll see we're always bringing something new to the table. I was traveling to places like Boston and Silicon Valley, meeting with investors, and trying to get funding for my ideas.

In 2014, I applied for the Start-up Visa. Unfortunately, because the program was so new, there were a lot of unknowns, and I made some big mistakes in my application, so I didn't get an invitation. But now, I know what it takes to get a Canadian residency permit through this program.

The Start-up Visa is for people who are building something special. Projects that could change Canada, create jobs, and maybe even expand internationally.

The Canadian government wants to attract smart and talented people. And you don't have to be young; there are no age restrictions in this program. Canada offers immediate permanent residency and is open to considering your application even if you only have a business idea.

According to the immigration levels plan, Canada aims to approve 5,000 applications for permanent residency from start-up founders in 2024. That number increases to 6,000 each in 2025 and 2026. This is a lot more than in previous years, like 2021.

Distinguishing the Start-up Visa from other programs

To take advantage of the Start-up Visa, you must have an innovative idea for a new business or a project that isn't currently available in Canada. Imagine creating software that boosts productivity or devising technology to increase crop yield or green solutions that save electricity.

Let me highlight a specific example: ApplyBoard, a company whose services we even use to help our clients select educational programs in Canada. Its founders were invited through the Start-up Visa and have seen remarkable success; their company was valued at US$4 billion in 2023.

If you don't have a groundbreaking idea but have financial resources, you can invest in someone else's start-up and serve as its financial director. The Start-up Visa offers a pathway to obtaining a second citizenship through investment. Initially, you'll receive a permanent residence permit, and after residing in Canada for 3 years, you can apply for Canadian citizenship. This investment route typically entails lower costs than purchasing citizenship in the UK or other European countries.

According to the Start-up Visa Program regulations, a project can have anywhere from 1 to 5 co-founders. Each co-founder can bring along their family, allowing up to 20 individuals to immigrate under one start-up. This flexibility is unique to the Start-up Visa and not available in other immigration programs.

We often receive inquiries from large families. For instance, a couple with children may wish to bring the husband's sister along, while the wife plans to relocate her mother. Traditional immigration programs would treat these as three separate cases, but the Start-up Visa allows them to be combined into one. By collaborating on a joint project, each member can assume different responsibilities within the team.

A crucial requirement is that the team collectively owns at least 50% of the company, with each founder holding a minimum of 10%.

However, there's a caveat. Suppose one team member fails to meet the requirements — such as having a criminal record — the entire team's immigration application will be rejected. Therefore, exercise caution when selecting partners, especially if you're considering moving with colleagues rather than relatives.

Just an idea is enough!

Having an idea is sufficient under the terms of the Start-up Visa Program. You don't need to own a company with a decade-long history or one that's already generating income.

But how can you determine if your idea and its potential implementation will benefit Canada? What makes a start-up innovative versus worthless?

The Canadian government has opted to delegate the responsibility of selecting start-ups. To qualify for the Start-up Visa, you must obtain a letter of support from one of the designated companies. These companies fall into three categories: venture capital funds, angel investor groups, and business incubators.

Candidate eligibility requirements

Securing a letter of support from one of these companies is paramount. You'll also need to demonstrate proficiency in English or French at a CLB 5 level, an intermediate level akin to B1.

Even if your language skills are currently lacking, six months of intensive learning with a tutor can propel you to that level. By comparison, candidates for immigration through Express Entry require a confident B2 level.

You can be of any age, possess any educational background, and work in any profession. Spouses of candidates aren't required to undergo language testing or have their diplomas evaluated.

Moreover, you must prove that you have sufficient funds for your initial settlement in Canada. The larger your family, the more money you'll need for expenses like rent and groceries. As a rough estimate, you'll require around US$11,000 for an individual, approximately US$16,500 for a family of three, and so forth. However, these are merely formal requirements; realistically, you may need more capital to kick-start your business venture.

Additionally, there are visa fees to consider. The main applicant pays CA$2,140, while a spouse incurs CA$1,365, and each child costs CA$230. Converting these fees into US dollars, a family of three would need roughly US$2,300.

Venture capital funds and angel investor groups

The list of designated companies providing letters of support is publicly accessible on Canada's official website.

If you have more than just an idea and have already embarked on a project with paying customers in your home country, you can introduce the same products or services to Canada. Given that Canada may lag behind other nations in certain areas, a project akin to yours might be nonexistent here. In such instances, approaching venture capital funds is advisable.

Venture capital funds invest their capital in start-ups exhibiting high growth potential in exchange for ownership stakes. If you can demonstrate the viability of your business, a venture capital fund may provide funding for your expansion into Canada, along with invaluable resources like management expertise, technical know-how, and business networks. In return, the fund receives a share in your company and stands to profit if your venture succeeds.

Securing support from a venture capital fund not only qualifies you for permanent residency but also facilitates the expansion of your business into Canada. Under the Start-up Visa Program requirements, you must receive a minimum investment of CA$200,000 from a venture capital fund.

For projects in their nascent stages, seeking assistance from business angels is often necessary. These individuals or small entities typically invest smaller amounts. To obtain a letter of support, the investment should be no less than CA$75,000.

Business incubators

If you prefer not to relinquish ownership of your company in exchange for funding from venture capital funds or angel investors, there's a third avenue that might be ideal for you — the one I personally pursued.

You'll need to enroll in a training program at one of the many business incubators across Canada, which aim to assist aspiring entrepreneurs in launching or growing their businesses. In 2024, the government recognized approximately 7 incubators, but now the list has expanded to over 50, situated across the country.

During your time at the business incubator, you'll participate in lectures to deepen your understanding of conducting business in Canada. It's crucial to engage regularly with fellow entrepreneurs and experts to brainstorm strategies for advancing your project and adapting to local conditions. Each country has its unique business customs and market dynamics, and grasping these nuances is essential for the success of your venture in Canada.

Previously, you had to physically arrive in Canada on a visitor or student visa to attend a business incubator program. However, nowadays, you can often complete the course online. Upon successful completion of the training and presentation of your project, you'll receive a letter of support enabling you to apply for a Start-up Visa.

How do I get a letter of support?

To gain entry into a business incubator or secure investment from venture capitalists or angels, you'll typically need to submit an initial application. This often involves completing a comprehensive questionnaire where you provide detailed descriptions of your project, outline your background, and introduce your team.

Given the highly enticing terms of the Start-up Visa immigration program, a large influx of applicants vie for spots in business incubator programs. However, the acceptance rate is extremely low. In addition to detailing your idea, you may be asked to submit a business plan that meets specific criteria.

Last year, I participated in a year-long business program in Toronto, immersing myself in an entrepreneurial environment. I observed other start-ups both thrive and falter. Over the year, we underwent intensive training in crafting business plans, covering aspects such as company history, problem-solving strategies, service delineation, business model, target market analysis, and more.

My final business plan spanned 95 pages, and by that time, I had already lived in Canada for 7 years. It's important to note that the initial screening process can be rigorous. However, you can always seek assistance from us if needed. If your application progresses, you'll likely be scheduled for several Zoom interviews.

Beginning in 2024, each investor organization can only accept up to 10 start-ups annually. When evaluating applications for permanent residency, Canada prioritizes start-ups that have secured letters of support from organizations affiliated with Canada's Tech Network.

A letter of support from a business incubator:

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Additional costs

It's important to recognize that business incubators operate with profitability in mind. Many explicitly outline the cost of their training programs, which can range from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The specific amount depends on your start-up's focus, as each investor fund or incubator typically specializes in certain areas.

The project's stage is also a determining factor. If your idea is already generating revenue, you'll essentially need to demonstrate through a business plan that your venture will thrive in Canada as well. However, if you're in the early stages of developing an innovative concept, you'll likely need to refine and package the idea for presentation.

Overall, the financial commitment can range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. If these figures seem daunting, remember that the aim of the Start-up Visa Program isn't solely to grant you residency. The Canadian government expects you to create jobs in the long run, even if not immediately, but within a few years. This entails paying salaries, and in Canada, wages are generally substantial.

Here's my personal experience: When I applied in 2014, one of the Toronto-based incubators assured me they'd provide comprehensive training, facilitate networking opportunities, and ultimately issue a letter of support. However, during the interview, they inquired about my financial resources and hinted at the need to lease office space in the downtown and pay a subscription fee for an additional year.

While this incurred significant costs, it proved effective. I have a friend who utilized a similar business incubator and followed recommendations to rent an expensive office space. If I recall correctly, his wife became the first woman to obtain a residency permit through the Start-up Visa.

Simply investing money without participating in an incubator program is unlikely to result in receiving a letter of support. Designated organizations undergo thorough vetting by the Canadian government and are unlikely to risk losing their accreditation.

Even if you acquire a stake in a start-up, you'll likely be required to assume certain responsibilities, such as serving as the finance director. You may have brilliant team members who conceived the innovative idea but lack financial acumen. In such cases, your expertise in wealth management can be invaluable, not only in distributing funds among team members but also when hiring external specialists.

Application processing time

After successfully obtaining a letter of support and applying for a residence permit, you'll encounter a significant waiting period for processing. Currently, the average processing time stands at 37 months.

However, there's a silver lining. Based on your submitted application for permanent residence, you can request a work visa, allowing you to relocate to Canada much sooner than your application for permanent residency will be processed.

Is it obligatory to develop a company in the event of successful immigration? This question piqued my interest as well. Under the Start-up Visa Program, there's no stipulation that you must commit to developing your start-up for the entirety of your life. After all, the nature of start-ups is often transient. However, in your application, you'll need to demonstrate your intent to nurture and expand your business in Canada.

Assistance with immigration through the Start-up Visa

As an immigration company, we can assist you in preparing documents for the Start-up Visa application. However, securing a letter of support is essential, and we collaborate with partners who excel in the business aspect. They adeptly handle the application process for enrollment in a business incubator or investment, as well as assist in crafting a compelling business plan. Additionally, if you're interested in investing in someone else's start-up, they can facilitate that process too.

If you're keen on establishing a business in Canada, I recommend booking a consultation with us.

During the consultation, we'll delve into the fundamental principles of conducting business in Canada. Our immigration consultant will assess your prospects of obtaining a permanent residence permit. If necessary, we'll engage our partners to address any business-related concerns.

Alex Pavlenko, founder of Immigrant.Today

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