Future of the Start-Up Visa Program: The views of Canada’s Minister of Immigration


This guest article was authored by Naumaan Hameed, Co-Founder, Greenberg Hameed Professional Corporation.

As can be expected, the Collision Conference recently brought together some of the best and brightest foreign start-ups from around the world facilitating insightful discussions with numerous stakeholders about Canada’s innovation ecosystem. Many start-up founders, investors and related agencies were curious about the future direction of Canada’s Start-up Visa (SUV) program based on increased inventory and processing times as well as growing integrity concerns.

Here is a summary of key points from the Canadian Minister of Immigration, the Honourable Sean Fraser on the SUV program:

1. The SUV program if properly deployed has tremendous potential to bring in leading foreign skills that can create future jobs in Canada and promote innovation.

Implication: The program will continue and is viewed currently as a necessary tool for Canadian competitiveness.

2. There is a need to identify and separate strong cases from applications that lack merit.

Implication: There will be ongoing discussions about evaluating applications to ensure program objectives are achieved. This could include higher vetting criteria or even a point system which would allow a merit-based processing system (similar in theory to Express Entry as opposed to a first come, first serve approach).

3. It is unacceptable to participate where the intention is to “buy a passport” through participation in the SUV program.

Implication: Anticipate greater scrutiny on “genuineness” and founder composition to identify those applicants and “schemes” where the primary motivation is to gain an immigration benefit.

4. Anticipate an increase in capitalization for companies participating in the SUV Program.

Implication: This could mean either an expectation that start-ups entering the program have some degree of traction, revenue or investment in order to participate.

Areas of Focus:

The current SUV program regulations are very “thin” resulting in a lack of detail outlining appropriate government priorities or the relevant factors that an officer should consider in evaluating an application.  To achieve the objectives noted by the Minister additional measures will need to be introduced into the program.

Anticipate regulatory changes and Ministerial Instructions to provide more details on the processing selection of applications which may evaluate how IRCC determines processing priorities. As well, expect additional clarifications on the roles and expectations of designated entities, compliance obligations and powers to withdraw status or penalize entities for non-compliance.

The Bottom Line:

The Minister’s tone supports the continuation of the SUV program but with additional clarifications to ensure that genuine applications with demonstrated success factors are prioritized, while introducing additional measures to detect applications that have been “created” simply to obtain an immigration benefit.

Clearly, the key to a successful international SUV program requires the identification of high quality and scalable businesses that can be swiftly processed to become permanent residents of Canada to grow their venture. At the same time, it is critical that the program always maintains the confidence of the public and has in place proper authority to maintain the integrity of the program objectives.

Anticipate consultations with key stakeholders over the summer. Overall, it’s the right time to rethink the SUV program to ensure program efficiency, integrity and competitiveness internationally.

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