Recommendations to improve the success of Canada’s Start-up Visa Program


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

There has been increased discussions recently about the current state of Canada’s Start-up Visa Program (SUVP) in both legal circles and amongst interested stakeholders. Part of the recent concerns have touched on a common issue in Canada’s immigration system – increased processing times – which have also impacted other permanent residence categories.

The Original Intent of Canada’s SUVP

In order to understand today’s SUVP processing dilemma it is helpful to reflect back on the origins of the program and what has since transpired.  Initially, the former Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, launched the SUVP to target high profile Silicon Valley Start-ups led by foreign nationals whose future (and start-up dreams) were at the mercy of the U.S. H1B lottery.  

An interesting side note in this regard, when the program was first introduced, we were involved in a discussion about implementing  digital screening and due diligence protocols to assist Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the National Angel Capital Organisation (NACO) to manage what we believed would ensue, namely a mountain of global interest paralysing the system.   

There was no interest at the time, as the SUVP was not envisioned to be a high volume program but instead a targeted effort to target lure high potential start-ups. As such, the program was resourced and structured accordingly as best illustrated by the fact that until recently it exclusively involved  “paper processing”.

The SUVP Today

Fast forward to today and perhaps we should dust off our digital SUVP vetting system! Due to the closure of the owner-operator LMIA category, limitations of the very traditional PNP entrepreneur programs and the lack of invitations under Express Entry for the Federal Skilled Work Program, a significant surge of SUVP applications has overloaded IRCC processing capacity.  

It should be noted as well that the lack of detailed eligibility filters and in some cases, the failure of certain designated incubators to uphold sufficient due diligence standards undermines the suitability of many prospective applications in the processing queue. 

Enhancing Canada’s SUVP – Key Steps 

In today’s competitive global marketplace, it has become necessary to promote opportunities to attract leading ideas and thinkers to innovate new business ideas that will assist in developing job creation for future skills. In short, as witnessed internationally, SUV programs have been increasingly popular and reflect a culture that supports innovation. Canada’s SUVP has achieved significant goals. Look no further than the success of ApplyBoard which was born out of the program.

That said, it is time to enhance the SUVP in order to ensure it is responsive to the needs of the start-up community while maintaining the integrity of the program.


The following considerations for review and program design are a useful starting point:

  1. Spot Audit of Designated Entities: Review all designated entities to assess the sufficiency of their due diligence processes and conduct regular spot audits to assess compliance and determine if appropriate industry standards are being followed.
  2. Greater Enforcement: Ensure all stakeholders that are misusing or misrepresenting facts in order to gain an immigration or financial benefit are held accountable and in the case of designated entities, removed from the program to protect program integrity. 
  3. Governance: Revisit the obligations imposed on designated entities to ensure that there is clarity on the expectations and obligations of all parties involved in the validation system.  In short, there needs to be a higher degree of transparency from NACO to designated entities.  Moreover, greater visibility from designated organisations to declare where they have received their leads.
  4. Tighten Filters: The regulations related to the SUVP are not detail-oriented and in the case of incubators rely on their industry expertise to determine which companies are innovative and deserving of a certificate. Given the extensive interest in the program, it is time to revisit the criteria to set an appropriate standard in determining the “formula” to establish innovation. This is not an easy but may require ongoing dialogue with stakeholders and innovation advisors to identify the specific priorities and success factors for start-up success and economic contribution.
  5. Consider a Start-up Invitation System: Perhaps it is time to produce a two step selection system whereby a prospective start-up needs to first achieve a minimum innovation profile which would include receiving a certificate but then must be invited to apply for permanent residence based on a total points calculation. This approach would promote the ability to control the inventory and allow for additional innovation factors beyond the mere issuance of the certificate for an application to be submitted.  Perhaps proposed businesses and ideas in priority sub sectors would be eligible for bonus points for example.
  6. Leverage Electronic Scoring and Processing: No more paper! It is an important time for IRCC to adopt a more advanced digital processing strategy for SUVP applications and start developing a more modern analysis of success by leveraging data analytics. There is also merit in establishing “quotas” to ensure that there is transparency on the availability of space in the program while also managing processing capacity to ensure start-ups can actually be processed and obtain permanent residence status in a timely manner in line with the original intention of the program.

Now is the time to critically review and revamp the SUVP process to ensure Canada remains a top attraction for the world’s leading start-ups while maintaining the integrity of the program. 

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