November 17, 2021
Business Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leadership Policy

3 Best Back-Up Canadian Programs For U.S. Immigrants

“By way of statistics, in January 2020 there were about 75,000 immigrant visa cases pending at the National Visa Center ready for interviews. Thirteen months later, in February 2021, there were 473,000 – about six to seven times greater. The snapshot gives you an idea of how much longer the line has gotten since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s important to note, too, that this number doesn’t include the entirety of that queue. It doesn’t include cases already at embassies and consulates that have not yet been interviewed or applicants still gathering the necessary documents before they can be interviewed, and also, of course, petitions awaiting USCIS approval.” That was the assessment of the U.S. State Department in a briefing on March 1st, 2021.

Not everyone in this backlog is ready to wait indefinitely for their U.S. immigrant application to be processed. For those immigrants who cannot or will not wait any longer, one of the better choices they have is to consider a move to Canada. This is particularly so since Canada is targeting to bring in over 400,000 immigrants per year for the next three years. While Canada is open to various types of immigrants, business applicants have always been a top priority, albeit they still have to meet competitive requirements. Let’s consider three of the best Canadian business immigration programs that could be attractive to U.S. immigrants looking for other options. These can be employed either as an interim measure to secure status in Canada while awaiting a U.S. priority date for example, or as a potential permanent alternative choice to living in the United States.

1.   Start-Up Visa Program

The Start-Up Visa program allows qualified immigrant entrepreneurs to obtain permanent resident status in Canada. Innovative entrepreneurs can connect with Canadian designated organizations, such as angel investor groups, venture capital funds or business incubators and start their business in Canada with their help.

There are four main eligibility requirements:

  1. Have a qualifying business project
  2. Obtain Letter of Support from a designated organization;
  3. Meet the language requirements (Canadian Language Benchmark level 5 in all four areas of English or French in language tests).
  4. Have sufficient funds available to settle in Canada. The amount depends on the number of people on the application and it is updated each year.
  5. Intend to live in any province of Canada besides Quebec.

Apart from getting a letter of support for a designated organization, the start-up applicant must:

  1. Own a least 10% of the voting rights in the corporation.
  2. Involve up to five applicants on an application; and
  3. The applicant or applicants together with a designated organization must hold more than 50% of the total voting shares.

Permanent resident status is granted to applicants whose:

  • Start-up is incorporated and actively operated from within Canada;
  • Whose essential business operations are carried out in Canada;

Essentially the letter of support from the designated organization opens the door to permanent residence in Canada. Processing time is 12 to 16 months.

2.   Federal Self-Employed Program

The Self-Employed Class is designed for applicants who have relevant self-employment experience and are able to make a significant contribution to the cultural, artistic or athletic life of Canada. Successful applicants get permanent residence.

Each candidate is graded based on five selection criteria that award points. The minimum required is 35 points while maximum is 100 points. The criteria include education, experience, age, English or French language skills, and adaptability because of work in Canada or close relatives in the country who are permanent residents or citizens. Cultural or artistic contributions include: authors and writers, creative and performing artists, musicians, painters, sculptors and other visual artists, technical support and other jobs in motion pictures, creative designers and craftspeople. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) has published a full list of qualifying activities for self-employed persons.

What is relevant experience?

In order for the experience to be deemed relevant, the applicant must prove their participation in cultural or athletic events in a professional capacity at a world-class level or have been self-employed in cultural activities or athletics abroad. The applicants have to demonstrate that their experience took place within the most recent five years preceding their application. The more years of the relevant work experience the applicant has the more points such an individual will be awarded.

Processing time to permanent residence is about 34 months.

3. Intra-Corporate Transfer

Work Visa  

This work visa is for immigrants who are being sent to Canada to work for a company with a 
parent, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate abroad. Since Canada is a member of a variety of trade agreements, this visa will work for immigrants from a wide variety of countries overseas. Workers who come as intra-company transferees to temporarily perform services, either 
in a managerial or executive capacity, or 
that entail specialized knowledge for an affiliated Canadian company will be eligible for temporary work visas, similar in kind to the U.S. L-1 visa.

The employee must have been employed abroad on a full-time basis for at least one continuous year out of the last three-year period to qualify. Note that Canada requires a showing of a significant benefit to the country for the employee to be approved, but this is not necessarily that difficult to establish. Also, note that the applicant must be currently employed at the time of applying and that the Canadian employer must pay a modest employer compliance fee to obtain the approval. 
The employer is not required to obtain a labor market impact assessment unlike with other Canadian work-based applications and a specific compensation level is not prescribed, although the income must be sufficient to prevent the immigrant from becoming a public charge.

Specifics of the Process

For those applicants coming to Canada from visa exempt countries, such as the U.S. or the EU, the work permit can be obtained on arrival by merely presenting their documentation at a port of entry. For other applicants, a work visa must be obtained from a Canadian consulate. The duration of the work permit will depend on the basis on which the applicant is applying for example three years to start under CUSME. The temporary work visa can lead to Canadian permanent residence by virtue of the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) program under which an applicant can apply to stay permanently if that applicant can show they have worked in Canada in a full time position for at least one year and score enough points based on education, age, and ability to speak English or French. Processing time to permanent residence for a CEC application is ten months.


Applicants under all these programs and their family members must successfully pass a medical exam and get police certificates as well as demonstrate they have enough funds available for them to settle in Canada. Dependants of principal applicants are awarded the same status as the main applicant. While the programs may not be suitable for all U.S. immigrants, they may be suitable for many looking for alternatives. Since Canada is next door to the U.S. and is in many ways similar to America, Canada may be a great second choice for those who are having trouble with their American-based applications.