As a rule, all persons who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents require a work permit to work in Canada. There are both temporary and long-term/permanent immigration programs available for business people looking to reside and work in Canada. A general review of these programs is below.

Temporary Business Visits

A person can enter Canada as a business visitor without applying for a work permit. As a business visitor, you must show that:

  • you plan to stay for less than six months
  • you do not plan to enter the Canadian labour market
  • your main place of business, and source of income and profits, is outside Canada
  • you have documents that support your application
  • you meet Canada’s basic entry requirements

As stated by the Government of Canada, international business in the country includes:

  • buying Canadian goods or services for a foreign business or government
  • taking orders for goods or services
  • going to meetings, conferences, conventions or trade fairs
  • giving after-sales service (managing, not doing hands-on labour)
  • being trained by a Canadian parent company that you work for outside Canada
  • training employees of a Canadian branch of a foreign company
  • being trained by a Canadian company that has sold you equipment or services

Reference Guide: Government of Canada – Determine Your Eligibility: Visits on Business

Intra-Company Transferee

The intra-company category provides one of the quickest methods in which a foreign business visitor may temporarily relocate to Canada. Under this category, the intra-company transferee may apply for a work permit if they:

  • are currently employed by a multi-national company and seeking entry to work in a parent, a subsidiary, a branch or an affiliate of that enterprise
  • are transferring to an enterprise that has a qualifying relationship with the enterprise in which they are currently employed, and will be undertaking employment at a legitimate and continuing establishment of that company
  • are being transferred to a position in an executive, senior managerial or specialized knowledge capacity
  • have been employed continuously by the company that plans to transfer them outside Canada in a similar full-time position for at least one year in the three-year period immediately preceding the date of initial application
  • are coming to Canada for a temporary period only; initial duration of work permits are one year, but renewals can be applied for with certain conditions
  • comply with all immigration requirements for temporary entry

In the case of a start-up company that would enrol an intra-company transferee, the Government of Canada states that the requirements of that start-up company are as follows:

  • Generally, the company must secure physical premises to house the Canadian operation, particularly in the case of specialized knowledge; however, in specific cases involving senior managers or executives, it would be acceptable that the address of the new start-up not yet be secured (for example, the company may use its counsel’s address until the executive can purchase or lease a premise)
  • The company must furnish realistic plans to staff the new operation
  • The company must have the financial ability to commence business in Canada and compensate employees
  • When transferring executives or managers, the company must demonstrate that it will be large enough to support executive or management functions
  • When transferring a specialized knowledge worker, the company must demonstrate that it is expected to be doing business and ensure that work is guided and directed by management at the Canadian operation

Reference Guide: Government of Canada – International Mobility Program: Intra-company transferees, General requirements

Start-up Visa Program

The Start-up Visa program links immigrant entrepreneurs with Canadian private-sector funders. This program is targeted to build businesses in Canada that are innovative, create jobs for Canadians and can compete on a global scale. In order to qualify for the Start-up Visa program, an applicant must meet four requirements.

First, they need to have both a letter of support and a minimum investment from a designated organization. Designated organizations are categorized as venture capital funds, angel investor groups and business incubators. The Government of Canada website lists all the qualified companies and organizations that can be used in these categories. For the required minimum investment, $200,000.00 is required from a venture capital fund and $75,000.00 is required from an angel investor group. No minimum investment is required from a business incubator, but you must be accepted into a Canadian business incubator program.

Second, the applicant must show that their business meets the ownership requirements. Up to five people can apply for the Start-up Visa Program as owners of a single business. However, to meet the ownership requirements, each applicant must hold at least 10 percent of the voting rights in the business and the designated organization, and the applicants must jointly hold more than 50 percent of the voting rights in the business.

Third, the applicant must demonstrate competence in either English or French and must meet the minimum level of the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB).

Fourth, since the the Government of Canada does not provide financial support to new Start-up Visa immigrants, applicants must show that they have have enough money to support themselves and their dependents after they arrive in Canada. Proof of these funds are required when applying and the amount needed depends on the size of the family.

Reference Guides: Government of Canada – Start-up Visa Program , Canadian Immigration and Visa Services

Self-employed Program

The Self-Employed Program is for people who will become self-employed in Canada and must have participated in cultural activities or athletics at a world-class level or have experience in farm management. To qualify, the applicant must have relevant experience in cultural activities, athletics or farm management; meet the selection criteria for self-employed people; and meet medical, security and other conditions.

Reference Guide: Government of Canada – Self-employed Program

Free Trade Agreements and Business Entry

It is important to note that several international free trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), allow some additional provisions and alleviate entry into Canada for business people from nations with partnered trade agreements.

Reference Guide: Government of Canada – International Mobility Program: International Free Trade Agreements

Express Entry Program (For Skilled Workers)

In this program, the Government of Canada chooses skilled immigrants as permanent residents based on their ability to settle in Canada and participate in the economy. Potential candidates complete an online Express Entry profile, which describes their professional skills, work experience, language ability, education and other details. A candidate who does not already have a job offer supported by a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), or a nomination from a province or territory, must register with Employment and Social Development Canada’s (ESDC) Job Bank. The Job Bank will help connect Express Entry candidates with eligible employers in Canada. Candidates will then be ranked against others in the pool using a point-based system. Points are awarded using the information in their profile. Candidates with the highest scores in the pool will be issued an invitation to apply for permanent residence.

Reference Guide: Government of Canada – Express Entry

For more information on business and general immigration policies for Canada, go to Government of Canada – Apply to Immigrate to Canada