Closing Doors: The Sudden End of Ontario’s Entrepreneur Program


Authored by Siavash Shekarian, Canadian Immigration Lawyer and CEO of Shekarian Law PC, and Public Affairs Liaison of the Citizenship and Immigration Section of the Ontario Bar Association

Entrepreneurship is an undeniable catalyst for innovation, job creation, and economic vitality. This isn’t just a popular opinion; it’s a fact supported by extensive global research. Yet, this key instrument is missing from Canada’s economic symphony.

The Canadian economy is floundering in troubled waters – we haven’t seen business investment this dismal since the Dirty ’30s. Unsurprisingly, Canadians are losing faith in the economy. Growing concerns are only exacerbated by the significant downturn in Canadian entrepreneurship, with 100,000 fewer entrepreneurs than two decades ago.

In this context, one would expect a proactive approach to encourage entrepreneurial immigrants by opening the doors wider for them. However, the Canadian reality is quite the opposite. The only two federal entrepreneurial programs (the Federal Self-Employed and Start-Up Visa programs) are moving at a pace that makes our sluggish economy seem like a sprinter. To compound matters, Ontario has abruptly slammed the door on its Entrepreneur Stream program – no notice or explanation.

The now-discontinued Entrepreneurial stream of the Ontario Immigration Nominee Program designed to nominate foreign entrepreneurs for permanent residency was a masterclass in bureaucratic obfuscation. The program’s complex criteria included Human Capital Factors such as business experience, education, and language ability; Investment Factors demanding a minimum net worth of $400,000 and an investment commitment of $200,000; and Business Concept Factors including business model, market research, business location, and job creation. The process of this point-based program started with an Expression of Interest, followed by a rigorous application stage that included third-party net-worth verification. Successful applicants then had to sign a stringent performance agreement, promising to meet business milestones for permanent residency – a journey through a labyrinth with minimal guidance or support.

Aspiring entrepreneurs faced a maze with virtually no support, vying for the ‘honour’ of entering an economy where one-third of new businesses close within 5 years, and two-thirds within 15 years. The program’s disconnect from entrepreneurial realities was evident when the Ontario government admitted to its failure in December 2021, citing only two nominations in six years. Despite announcing a new pilot to attract 100 entrepreneurs with a combined investment of $20 million for Ontario’s economy, the initiative fizzled out, and the government terminated the program on December 4, 2023 – this time without any formal admission, report, announcement, or promise of future plans.

This raises the fundamental question of “why?” The concern lies not in the lack of collective wisdom to design and implement a workable program, but in a disconcerting trend of closed-door policymaking without citizen engagement. It’s worrisome that Civil Society Associations such as CILA are left knocking on closed government doors, seeking to collaborate and assist when it should be the other way around.


To move forward constructively, the following recommendations are proposed for any level of Canadian government to consider for an enhanced entrepreneurial program:

  • Support and Collaboration: Canadian entrepreneurs are in dire need of support, let alone foreign entrepreneurs who, in addition to navigating the business world, must also contend with the hurdles of settling in a new country. Therefore, a robust public-private partnership model is recommended that leverages local expertise from incubators, accelerators, and advisory firms in tandem with government oversight. This collaborative approach must create a supportive ecosystem where private entities are not just validators of business concepts but are also active partners with entrepreneurs and supporting them through their journey to meet their performance agreement obligations.
  • Flexibility and Security: For foreign entrepreneurs, the prospect of permanent residency in Canada is a key motivator but linking it too rigidly to business performance can be repelling. To make the program more appealing and realistic, it’s essential to introduce flexibility through safety valves like the Troubled Business caveat in the U.S. EB-5 Investor Visa program or introduce an amendment and modification clause to the performance agreement, clearly defining how and when entrepreneurs can adjust their business milestones in response to unforeseen challenges. Such adaptability would provide much-needed reassurance and support to entrepreneurs as they navigate the complexities of establishing a business in a new country.
  • Prioritized Client Care & Support: Effective client care and support are fundamental for the success of any entrepreneurial program. The Business Immigration Unit administering the program must adhere to high business standards, including a commitment to respond to inquiries within a maximum of 48 hours. This unit should not only facilitate interactions with program partners but also engage directly with applicants. Such direct engagement ensures applicants are receiving adequate support from program partners and allows for the collection of vital feedback for continuous program improvement, thereby enhancing the overall efficacy and responsiveness of the program.

Invitation to Dialogue

Democracy thrives in dialogue, and crafting effective policies requires active engagement. On behalf of CILA, we extend an open invitation to the honourable David Piccini, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, to partake in a virtual town hall. with various stakeholders. Let’s come together and explore and discuss the future of Ontario’s entrepreneur immigration program, ensuring it aligns with the needs of both the province and those seeking entrepreneurial opportunities within its borders.

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