If you are a foreigner (foreign national) and non-resident of Canada, this guide will outline the process of how you can start a business in Canada as a non-citizen. Upon starting a business in Canada, there is a pathway to permanent residency as the majority owner of a Canadian corporation. Please see this article on the pathway to permanent residency through the Owner Operation LMIA pathway. This is a brief article and guide to answer the questions you may have for starting a business in Canada as a foreigner. 

Hypothetical Case: 

You are an Indian Citizen who is working in the Gulf, let’s say Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or Dubai. Your take home salary is $150,000 USD. You have a home in India and a few real estate and other assets but currently live and work in Bahrain with your wife and two young kids. You have extensive managerial and corporate experience in a company and it has always been your dream to launch your own company by starting a business in Canada. 

What are the steps you must take to start your business in Canada and immigrate with your family to Canada? 

1) Obtain 10-year, multiple entry, Temporary Resident Visa’s (TRV’s) for you and your family to visit Canada before starting your business. 

This is so that you and your family can visit, enter, and leave Canada freely for the next 10 years. This is an important step as it allows you to visit certain areas of the country to perform preliminary research and find the ideal location to incorporate and start your business in Canada and resettle with your family. You need to have a valid reason to visit Canada and at CIVS, we can support you and your family with your Temporary Resident Visa applications. 

2) Obtain a Visitor Visa to the United States. 

This is not a required step but it can be helpful. The reasoning behind this is so that you can travel freely between Canada and the USA and have a valid visa to visit either country for a specific duration of time. It can also prove to be helpful when you have both visas for obtaining your work permit, based upon a positive LMIA decision, from a Canada border services officer. If you have the funds to do so, it is highly recommended to in parallel, obtain the visitor visa to the USA before starting a business in Canada. 

3) Incorporate your business in the desired province. 

This can be done remotely and you do not need to be in Canada to form an incorporation or start a business in Canada. For certain jurisdictions, businesses, and provinces, you may need to have a Canadian resident director on the incorporation. The Canadian resident does not necessarily need to own any equity in the corporation but they may need to assume some liability. The only jurisdiction in Canada that does not require a Canadian resident director is the province of British Columbia. It is possible as a foreign national to own 100% and be the only director on a British Columbia corporation. As immigration professionals specializing in business immigration at CIVS (Canada Immigration & Visa Services), we can help you navigate this process and start a business in Canada. 

4) Apply for an Owner Operator LMIA (Labour Market Impact Assessment) through ESDC Canada 

So now you have your business incorporated and the ability to visit Canada but you still don’t have the right to work in Canada or operate your business, even though you have started your business in Canada. This is a lengthy process and involves a few moving parts. You cannot simply obtain a Work Permit, a right to work in Canada, without first having an approved LMIA (Labour Market Impact Assessment) by ESDC (Employment and Social Development Canada). The reasoning behind the LMIA requirement is that Canada needs to prove that as a foreign national by working in your company, that you will not negatively impact the labour market in Canada: that is to say, reduce jobs available for Canadians in Canada or shrink the market. Part of the approval process is to show a business plan and how you intend to hire at least one Canadian or permanent resident by launching your business in Canada. LMIA Owner Operator applications are lengthy and there is a small margin for error. You have to prove that you have an incorporated company and you have the resources to sustain yourself, your family, and your business in Canada. Sean G McKinsley and the trained professionals at CIVS (Canada Immigration and Visa Services) can consult and prepare an application that can give you the best chance at achieving a positive LMIA approval for you can successfully start a business in Canada. 

5) Apply for a Work Permit that is associated with your approved LMIA 

Once your Owner Operator LMIA is approved by ESDC Canada and you have proven that your company started in Canada, will most certainly positively influence the Canadian labour market, it is time to apply for your Work Permit. The Work Permit application is received and goes through Immigration Canada as opposed to ESDC which approves the Owner Operator LMIA. Immigration Canada can take up to 4 months (by current processing times) to approve your Work Permit. If you need approval in a shorter time frame it may be possible to obtain your Work Permit directly at the Canadian border. This is when the Temporary Resident Visa and Visitor Visa to the USA become handy. A Work Permit application is also very lengthy, and a small administrative error can delay your right to work in Canada by the amount of time it takes to re-process your application (4 months at this time). For this reason, it is highly recommended you seek guidance and advice from the trained professionals at CIVS (Canada Immigration and Visa Services). 

Once you have your approved Work Permit, you now have successfully started your business in Canada and are eligible to work in Canada as the Owner-Operator of your new business. Congratulations! You can continue to work and live in Canada for your business as long as your Work Permit is valid. The maximum work permit duration Canada issues for an Owner Operator LMIA is 2 years. Before the 2 years has expired, you may be eligible to reapply to for another Owner Operator LMIA for your existing business or extend your Work Permit with a Bridging Open Work Permit depending on your circumstances. 

We recommend early in the 2 year window (as soon as your work permit is approved) that you determine with the help of a licensed immigration professional how you and your family can apply for Permanent Residency status through one of the available Federal Express Entry streams or a Provincial Nominee Program. As part of our Owner Operator LMIA retainer agreement, we will provide you with your options that will give you the best chance at success for long term growth and resettlement after starting your business in Canada. 

Please contact CIVS (Canada Immigration & Visa Services) using the form below if you are interested in starting a business in Canada as a foreigner or would like more information on the Owner Operator LMIA pathway to permanent residency.