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Part 1: Canadian work permit options for self-employed persons and entrepreneurs

entrepreneur working on his laptop

I am an artist who is leading a small-scale arts business which can support myself and several employees. What options do I have to live and work in Canada, temporarily or permanently?

Post-graduation Work Permit (PGWP) for Study Permit Holders

Many foreign nationals who obtain a study permit to pursue a post-secondary education program in Canada at a designated learning institution (DLI) are also eligible for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP).

Based on the length of the study program, PGWP can be valid for a minimum of 8 years for up to a maximum of 3 years. Usually if the length of the program is between 8 months to 2 years, the length of the PGWP coincides with the length of the study program. If a program of study is 2 years or longer, a 3-year PGWP is given.

C11 “Significant Benefit” Work Permit for Entrepreneurs

Foreign investors and entrepreneurs may obtain a work permit under the “significant benefit” category and be exempt from the requirement to obtain a labor market impact assessment (LMIA) under exemption code C11, as part of Canada’s International Mobility Program. If the applicant proves eligibility, he or she can be given a work permit for two years at a time and can be extended as long as your business in Canada is active and profitable.

To successfully obtain the C11 Work Permit, an applicant must:

  • own at least 50% of a business incorporated in Canada;
  • show relevant experience and capacity to operate their business in Canada;
  • have the financial capacity to execute their business plan;
  • present a feasible business plan;
  • have taken significant steps to execute their business plan;
  • and prove that their business will generate “significant economic, social, or cultural benefit to Canada,” which includes job creation and advancement of Canadian industry, such as technological developments or other innovations.

Treaty Investor Work Permit (Free Trade Agreements)

Citizens of certain countries that have established trade agreements with Canada can obtain LMIA-exempt work permits under the “treaty investor” category. As of the time of writing, this option is available for the following:

  • United States, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Chile, Peru, Colombia, South Korea, all European Union countries, UK.
  • Permanent residents of Australia, Colombia, and Peru are also eligible.

You can find links to all applicable treaties by following the link here.

To successfully obtain a work permit under the treaty investor category, the following requirements apply:

  • The applicant is a national of a treaty country;
  • The enterprise is majority-owned by nationals of the treaty country;
  • Applicant is coming to Canada solely to “develop and direct” the enterprise, usually evidenced by applicant’s controlling (exceeding 50%) interest in the enterprise;
  • Applicant has invested a “substantial amount” of capital in the enterprise;
  • The business must be real and operating;
  • The business must not be marginal.

For both of these categories, before an entrepreneur applies for a work permit, he or she must set up a Canadian corporation and obtain a Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) business number and issue a job offer to himself or herself through the Canadian government’s Employer Portal.

Once an entrepreneur obtains one of the above work permits to allow them to operate their business in Canada and accumulates Canadian work experience, they may become eligible to apply for permanent residency under one of the Express Entry streams.  A separate permanent residency stream also exists for self-employed persons working specifically in cultural or athletic fields. Find more information in the following post here.

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