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The Government of Canada has announced that it would make the Start-up Visa Program a permanent feature of Canadian immigration law. The Start-up Visa program was introduced in 2013 as a 5-year pilot program to encourage entrepreneurs to come to Canada. It was intended to replace the old Entrepreneur Program, which was suspended in 2011. The hope with these types of programs is that these entrepreneurs will not only bring their business to Canada, but will also create jobs for other Canadians.

Rocky Start for the Pilot Program

This announcement comes in the face of the initial criticisms of the program, namely that so few applicants are granted visas under this program.  Within the first 3 years of the program, only 100 people, including dependants, were admitted into Canada under this program. As of April 2016, 113 applications were received, 51 of which were approved, 13 were refused and 49 are still pending.

One of the main reasons for this low number of applicants was the processing time. At the start of the program, it could have taken up to 2 years to process an application under the start-up visa program. This created a problem for entrepreneurs and their start-ups. These types of businesses rely on speed to get off the ground and to beat out their potential competitors. As a result, more often than not applicants were directed to Canada through other streams.

To help with this issue, the IRCC decided to eliminate the peer review requirement for the program. It used to be that every business plan submitted under this program had to be reviewed by a panel put together by the organization governing the investors of the application. In other words, if the proposed start-up was funded by an angel investment group, then the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO) would put together a panel to review the proposed business. This review added both time and uncertainty to the program’s process. Now, officers may request a peer review of the start-up plan, if the plan is seen as risky, but it is no longer needed for all applications.

This change to the program followed an evaluation report on the program, which cited many complaints about the peer review process. The evaluation also pointed to the low number of applicants in the program, calling for the IRCC to actively promote this program to entrepreneurs outside of the Canada.

The Continuation of the Start-up Visa Program: “Quality over Quantity”

Overall, the evaluation of the program was positive. Even in face of the criticisms of the pilot program, the Government of Canada repeatedly insists that the program is a success because its aim is “quality, not quantity.” Through this program, the government is hoping to attract the best candidates in terms of not only their business skills, but also their age and education. In comparison with the old Entrepreneur program, the Start-up Visa program has accepted more younger applicants (aged 24-44), than the Entrepreneur program. Under the Start-up Visa, 77% of admitted applicants were young applicants, compared with only 35% under the old program.

In addition, the education level is higher for admitted applicants under the Start-up Visa program: 74% have a bachelor’s degree or higher, whereas under the old program, only 34% had that same level of education.

As this program gains more attention, we may start to see more young and educated entrepreneurs coming to Canada, bringing with them more growth for Canada’s economy. However, for this program to be truly successful at attracting start-up companies and entrepreneurs to Canada, the IRCC will have to strive to reduce processing times, while still maintaining investment protections and quality assurances.