skip to Main Content
Reading Time: 6 minutes

5 Options for Canada-Bound Entrepreneurs Since the Owner Operator LMIA Changed in April 2021

Business Immigration | Canadian Immigration | LMIA Owner Operator 


Marianella Manzur

Executive Director – Joorney Canada

In early April 2021, Canada made an announcement that sent entrepreneurs scrambling: there would be no more special processing of the Owner-Operator LMIA as part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

In the not-so-distant past, the Owner-Operator LMIA program helped bring business owners to Canada, but entrepreneurs moving into the Great White North have gotten a bit more complicated. Before, business owners were exempt from job advertising, but now all business owners must complete the standard Labour Market Impact Assessment and can only take advantage of the Owner-Operator category if no Canadians apply for the job.

Long story short, as of April 2021, starting a business in Canada via the OO LMIA program became a little more challenging for many foreign entrepreneurs. But what are entrepreneurs if not experts at navigating challenges?

The good news is that for those who don’t want to take the OO LMIA path, there are a number of other options for Canada-bound entrepreneurs and investors.

So let’s take a look at what the Owner Operator LMIA program was and what options remain for entrepreneurs looking to invest in or start a business in Canada.

What is the Owner Operator LMIA program?

The Owner-Operator LMIA used to allow entrepreneurs to open a new business, or buy an existing business or a franchise anywhere in Canada — that is, you weren’t limited to a specific province. This program offered relatively easy access to Canada with only a few major requirements, including the fact that the company had to be up and running before submitting the application and proving the ability to cover costs for at least the first year of doing business.

Most importantly, applicants didn’t have to prove that there was no Canadian citizen or permanent resident that could do the job and that a foreign national – in this case, the investor or business owner – was needed.

As of April 1, 2021, however, the rules have changed. Pending and future Owner Operator LMIA applications will have to pass through the general LMIA rules, which require applicants to prove that there is no Canadian citizen or permanent resident to fulfill the job. In order to demonstrate this need, applicants will have to advertise the position in Canada and make efforts to hire Canadians, and then provide detailed explanations for why any potential Canadian candidates were not hired.

Of course for a business owner or investor coming into Canada to run the business, this adds a bit of time, cost, and complexity to the process. And while the OO LMIA program is still a great way to build a business in Canada, there are other options to choose from when starting a business in Canada.

So let’s take a look at them.

5 other ways entrepreneurs and investors can work in Canada instead of the Owner Operator LMIA

If you’re a foreign national and would like to start a business in Canada, you’ll need a work permit. The right work permit for you depends on many factors: where you’re from, your role at the company, what kind of impact your company will have in Canada, etc.

So, here are five other ways besides the Owner Operator LMIA that entrepreneurs and investors can move to Canada to launch and grow their businesses.

1. Start-up Visa

Canada’s Start-up Visa program started as a pilot program but its early success cemented it as the leading pathway for entrepreneurs and investors coming to Canada. The Start-up Visa was specially designed to speed up and smooth out the immigration process for international entrepreneurs with verified investor funding.

The program prioritizes start-up businesses that are innovative and are predicted to create jobs in Canada. In order to qualify for this visa program, you must have a start-up, an intermediate knowledge of English or French, and a Letter of Support from a designated organization, which are Canadian private sector angel investors, venture capital funds, or business incubators that are approved to invest in or support start-ups through the Start-up Visa Program.

2. Intra-Company Transferee

If you have an existing foreign business and are interested in expanding into Canada, the Intra-Company Transferee (ICT) work permit is another option. This visa program is used by companies to move management and key staff into Canadian branches, but it can also be used by entrepreneurs who are able to open and operate a Canadian branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of their company.

3. CUSMA Investor & Other Trade Agreements

The agreement formerly known as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was replaced by the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) in July 2020. Americans or Mexicans who invest in new or existing businesses in Canada may be eligible to apply for a work permit under CUSMA’s investor program.

The program allows eligible investors, majority shareholders, or sole owners to develop and direct their business from inside Canada. In order to become a CUSMA Investor, you must have a detailed business plan that demonstrates how your company will generate jobs and benefit the Canadian economy, and proof that significant funds have already been committed to the project.

CUSMA isn’t the only free trade agreement (FTA) that provides opportunities for business people and investors to enter the country. There are other well-established and popular options for Europeans under The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Canada also has specific trade agreements with many other countries such as Chile, Peru, Colombia, Korea, Panama, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Panama, and others. There are various options under all these FTAs.

4. IMP C11 LMIA Exemption

The ICT and Free Trade Agreements both fall under what is known as the International Mobility Program (IMP) which allows companies to transfer employees without receiving a positive LMIA. The C11 Significant Benefit exemption is another one of the most popular options under the IMP for immigrants that may have otherwise considered the LMIA Owner Operator. Similar to the owner-operator option, the applicant must control 50% or more of the business and prove they have the skills and experience to be successful in their endeavor.

There are two key differences, however.  The first is that the business must demonstrate it will have a significant social, economic, or cultural benefit.  The second is the application process itself.  While LMIA Owner Operator is evaluated by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) those wishing to pursue a work permit under a C11 Exemption will apply to Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) directly, like with any of the other LMIA exempt options.

5. Self-employed Persons Program

To qualify for the Self-employed Program, an applicant must prove they have relevant experience in cultural activities or athletics and are able to make a significant contribution to the cultural or athletic life of Canada.

Joorney can help you prepare the business plan to open and operate a business and invest in Canada

Even though Canada’s Owner Operator LMIA program has changed, don’t let that stop you from pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams in Canada! Joorney can help every kind of business owner and investor on their immigration path – we specialize in preparing business plans for investors and entrepreneurs looking to build a business in Canada and the US.

Since our start in 2013, Joorney has helped thousands of entrepreneurs and investors start and expand their businesses into Canada and the US. If you’re looking to move to Canada by investing in an existing Canadian business or launching a new business, learn more about how we can support you or reach out to us directly!

Disclaimer: Joorney Business Plans Canada is not an immigration consultant, lawyer, or advisor and cannot be held responsible for damages incurred from the use of this information. If you require more information about a program or your specific immigration case, please contact a registered immigration professional.

Latest News: More News
Back To Top