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Startup Visa Program requirements

Not everyone, or every business, can take part in the SUV Program.

For you to be eligible as an individual, you must hold at least 10% ownership in a startup and commit to operating and managing the business while living in Canada. You’ll have to prove that you have the funds to support you and your family once you arrive, and that you’re all in good health and have no criminal records. You’ll also have to score at least level five in the Canadian Language Benchmark Test in English or French.

For your business to be eligible for the program, it needs to be considered “innovative” and have the potential to benefit the Canadian economy by eventually having a global presence.

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You won’t be the one making your company’s case to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Instead, you’ll need a letter of support from one of 60 government-approved organizations, which fall into three categories:

  • Business incubators. A letter from an incubator confirms that your business is either participating in or has been accepted into its program.
  • Angel investor groups. Angel investors can provide support letters if they are investing at least $75,000 in your business.
  • Venture capital funds. A venture capital group can write a letter for you if they’re investing at least $200,000 in your business.

Up to five people can have their permanent residence applications tied to the same business venture, but each one has to submit their own application. If any candidate withdraws their application or gets denied, everyone involved with the business will have their applications terminated, so be mindful of who you partner with.

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Find the right business partner

Just as IRCC won’t approve any business for a SUV, it also won’t take the word of just any angel investor, business incubator or venture capital firm. It’s important to find the right one.

Divesh Sharma of New Delhi-based legal consultancy firm, Arcum Global, says entrepreneurs should seek out investors who have significant experience in the same industry. In addition to giving their opinions more legitimacy with IRCC, finding like-minded investors is also the best way to ensure you’ll have the support and guidance you need to help your business grow.

You’ll also want to find a partner organization that makes use of a robust due diligence process for assessing your qualifications. There are no specific guidelines for your partners to follow when evaluating you or your business, but they must be able to prove that they conducted a thorough, objective analysis before agreeing to support you.

Demonstrate your relevant experience

Your support letter is only part of the battle. Immigration officers often review the information provided by SUV applicants to see if they have the knowledge, experience or industry contacts needed to make their businesses successful.

If your experience has all been in pharmaceuticals, for example, but you’re proposing a move to Canada to start a new online payment app, expect IRCC to have some questions for you.

A few knowledge gaps shouldn’t sink your application, but you’ll want to be upfront about where your weaknesses lie and show IRCC how you plan to address them in a concrete way.

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Stay committed

The SUV approval process generally takes between 12 and 16 months. During that time, IRCC wants to see you doing everything you can to make your new venture a success.

If IRCC feels you are not taking your business seriously, they may reject your application, so plan on being very busy — and probably spending a fair amount of money — making business trips to advance your business, hiring people who can assist in its development and performing objective market research to understand your customers’ needs.

Jean-Francois Harvey, global managing partner of Harvey Law Group in Hong Kong, says proving your dedication will likely require obtaining a work permit, coming to Canada and starting your business while your permanent residence file is being processed.

“This is not a passive investment program, and does require active participation from the candidate,” says Harvey.

“IRCC will ask for a progress report. Be sure of this.”

While the process may seem long and arduous, it will still save you time compared to the standard route for permanent citizenship. If you fit the requirements, applying may be well worth the effort.

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