Start-Up Visa: South Africans Lead Way In Gaining Canada Permanent Residency

Start-Up Visa: South Africans Lead Way In Gaining Canada Permanent Residency
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South Africans are enjoying a level of success that is nothing short of remarkable in gaining permanent residency in Canada under the Start-Up Visa program.

An amazing 90 per cent of South African applicants to Canada’s Start-Up Visa program are accepted, far in excess of the average overall acceptance rate of 38 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

That success rate puts South Africa at the top of the list of countries whose applicants are accepted under this program. 

Canada remains deeply committed to its relationships with African countries, both for humanitarian and economic reasons.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toured the continent last year. During that trip, Trudeau strengthened Canada’s partnerships with countries across Africa and committed to creating economic growth, increasing trade and investment, promoting democracy, advancing gender equality, and fighting climate change.

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Canada Wants To Foster Strong Ties With African Countries

“Canada and African countries will continue to work together to find solutions to the global challenges of today and prepare for the ones of tomorrow,” said the prime minister in May. 

“We cannot defeat COVID-19 unless all countries have the resources to respond to, and recover from, this crisis. The Government of Canada will keep working with international partners to support an equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines, and a strong global economic recovery that benefits everyone, including by recognizing the specific needs of African countries.”


The positive working relationship between Canada and South Africa was further exemplified earlier this year when Mitacs, the Canadian non-profit designed to promote research and training programs, struck a formal partnership with South Africa’s National Research Foundation.

With that partnership, the NRF effectively launched its Industry Partnership Strategy which aims to develop highly-qualified personnel through collaborative training opportunities with industry, joint research, and collaborative networks with other countries.

The program is the first of its kind in South Africa with a combined investment of $1.26 million over three years.

Mitacs and South Africa’s National Research Foundation Ink Deal

“I am delighted to launch this first agreement between Mitacs and the National Research Foundation,” said Dr. John Hepburn, Mitacs CEO and scientific director, in mid-May.

“We are proud to support the innovation ecosystem by offering a significant opportunity to PhD students and postdoctoral fellows for global mobility between Canada and South Africa,” he said. “The connections established through this partnership will advance outcomes for both countries, while providing new opportunities for researchers.”

That innovative thinking and entrepreneurial bent is one of the reasons why South African entrepreneurs who apply to Canada’s Start-Up Visa program do so well.

Under the Start-Up Visa program, immigrants can get permanent residency in Canada, provided their business idea is approved.

Angel Investors, Venture Capital Funds and Business Incubators Help Entrepreneurs 

The program requires that these budding entrepreneurs gain the support of one of three types of private-sector investors: angel investors, venture capital funds, or business incubators. A designated venture capital fund must confirm that it is investing at least $200,000 into the qualifying business.

Candidates can also qualify with two or more commitments from designated venture capital funds totalling $200,000. 

A designated angel investor group must invest at least $75,000 into the qualifying business – or candidates can qualify with two or more investments from angel investor groups totalling $75,000. 


A designated business incubator must accept the applicant into its business incubator program. It is up to the immigrant investor to develop a viable business plan that will meet the due diligence requirements of these government-approved designated entities.

That’s usually done with the help of business consultants in Canada’s start-up ecosystem with oversight from experienced corporate business immigration lawyers who can ensure a start-up’s business concept meets all industry-required terms and conditions.

Candidates applying under the Start-Up Visa program can initially come to Canada on a work permit supported by their designated Canadian investor before their application for permanent residence is finalized.

Ottawa Does Not Provide Financial Assistance to Start-Up Visa Applicants

The basic government-imposed candidate eligibility requirements for the Start-Up Visa program are:

  • a qualifying business;
  • a commitment certificate and letter of support from a designated entity;
  • sufficient unencumbered, available and transferable settlement funds to meet settlement funding, and;
  • proficiency in English or French at the minimum Canadian Language Benchmark level 5.  However, it frequently occurs that higher levels of English are needed to meet due diligence requirements imposed by designated entities

Ottawa does not give financial support to new Start-Up Visa immigrants. When candidates apply, they need to show evidence they have the finances to support themselves and their dependents in Canada. This money cannot be borrowed.

Additionally, it often occurs that candidates will need to show additional, sufficient funding to meet start-up costs of their business project, as a condition of investment by a designated entity (VC or Angel).

This is an area where experienced legal consulting will prove invaluable. The amount of settlement funding needed depends on the size of the candidate’s family.

Certainly, the Start-Up Visa program is growing in popularity. In 2019, the total number of new permanent resident approved admissions reached 510, more than double the 250 welcomed in 2018. The figures had been increasing steadily over the last five years until the pandemic slowed immigration to Canada to a trickle.

International Students Can Get Fast Permanent Residency Through Start-Up Visa

The Start-Up Visa program also represents an important option for international students, many of whom do not qualify for permanent residence through the skilled worker immigration streams. While Ottawa has taken steps to gear up the Express Entry system to favour international students, they are by no means guaranteed to qualify for a coveted Invitation to Apply under the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS).

The minimum score needed to qualify has often been over 470, leaving many students unable to qualify even with the support of a job offer from a Canadian employer. These candidates can either sit in the Express Entry pool and hope the minimum score under the CRS falls or they can make the transition from temporary to permanent residence. This is where the Start-Up Visa program becomes an option.

Unlike almost every other federal and provincial-level entrepreneur program which requires a minimum of one or two years of previous experience either owning a business or in top-level management, the Start-Up Visa program does not require previous management experience.

The support of a government-designated entity is enough. And that support can be either financial or in the form of accepting the candidate into a business incubator program. Immigrants who avail themselves of the Start-Up Visa program consistently report that it is quick, both for the initial work permit and permit residence application.

Start-Up Visa Application Process Usually Under Six Months

With a viable start-up business project, an immigrant entrepreneur can expect it to take about four to six months to secure a commitment certificate or letter of support from a designated entity. Once that letter of support is received, the application for permanent residence can be submitted.

It will then take approximately 18-months to finalize the application through to the issuance of a permanent residence visa.  For the candidate to qualify for permanent residence:

  • The intended business must be incorporated and carrying on business in Canada;
  • The candidate must own at least 10 per cent of the voting rights in the corporation, and;
  • No other person can hold 50 per cent or more of the voting rights in the corporation.

As many as five candidates can have their permanent residence application supported by the same business investment.  But that can come with a risk. Certain candidates may be designated as essential to the business. If any of the essential candidates withdraw their applications or are refused, all other candidates under the same business investment will see their applications terminated.

Surveys suggest Start-Up Visa candidates usually go on to succeed in Canada, in terms of growing their business, attracting further investment, networking or selling their business for a profit.

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