The unicorn of TFW policy: Owner/Operator LMIAs

Under the Temporary Foreign Worker rules, if you are a minority shareholder of a Canadian business and need a work permit to perform an integral role in the operations, you can apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) without having to jump through the usual advertising hoops.

This is sensible: we know a disproportionate number of immigrants are entrepreneurial. Starting a business in Canada is often the first-generation’s main strategy to integration. Think: the neighborhood grocer, specialty restaurant or, at least in the case of Halifax, residential and commercial property development. Allowing owners and operators access to work permits encourages start-ups and expansions in the Canadian market and provides an option for existing businesses that may be looking to sell or expand.

I have been wondering for a long time why this is such an obscure and seemingly underused opportunity. Really, it should be a first step to permanent residence for entrepreneurs. Wouldn’t provinces, notoriously paranoid about retention, benefit from running a provincial business stream in tandem with this type of work permit? The current policy is to avoid passive investment programs so people aren’t just buying their way into Canada. Isn’t an owner/operator work permit the best proof you can get that prospective permanent residents have the capacity and intention to be actively involved in a viable business?

Oh, right, there’s a catch.

Although this type of LMIA has been around for years, one of the main problems is that there is no corresponding permanent residence program. So while you can buy a business and qualify for a work permit as an owner/operator, that only gives you temporary status. The Canada Experience Class is the main federal program for people to go from temporary residence to permanent residence, but it does not apply to anyone who is self-employed. There is no way for a business owner to get permanent status under any federal programs. And the last thing a business owner wants is to deal with annual work permit renewals and the uncertainty of not knowing if your status will be renewed.

A recent CBC article about the new Express Entry program, which is opening in January 2015, mentioned that it will include a Business Class. There is no indication of how that will work but it would be fantastic if someone with an owner/operator LMIA could qualify for permanent residence through the Express Entry program. It would also be great if owner/operator LMIAs were available to majority shareholders.

So we know what they are but will we ever see one in real life? Until owner/operator LMIAs have a pathway to permanent residence, they will continue to be majestic and mythical and mostly abstractions.