Visa Options for a Self-Employed Person

Being self-employed or working freelance is fast becoming a popular choice in the gig economy.
Who is Considered a Self-Employed Person in Canada?

Self-employment is a major labour-market activity and an important source of employment growth in Canada. In 2018, 2.9 million people were self-employed in Canada, accounting for 15% of total employment. The highest self-employment rate is in British Columbia.

A self-employed person is an individual who operates a business or is engaged in a business relationship with the payer — a company to which the individual provides services. Self-employment is rising in the professional, cultural, scientific, technical services and athletics fields, but falling in agriculture. These changes mirror the industry composition of employment.

For immigration purposes, self-employed persons are newcomers who are admitted to Canada because they have relevant experience in their fields while working for themselves.

At present, specific immigration programs for self-employed persons exist only in cultural activities or athletics. The candidate must be able to make a reasonably significant contribution to one of these fields through their relevant experience and skills.

What does a “significant contribution” mean?

There is no formal definition of “significant contribution.” Visa officers can use their judgment. A contribution to athletics or the arts, even at less than a national standard, may still be significant at the local level.

Called the Self-Employed Persons Program (SEPP), this program is managed by the federal immigration authority — Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

What are “cultural activities” under the SEPP?
Cultural activities include jobs in artistic and cultural fields:

  • Authors and writers,
  • Creative and performing artists,
  • Musicians and dancers,
  • Sculptors and other visual artists, etc.

What does “athletics” mean under the SEPP?
Athletics in Canada relates to the following occupations:

  • Athletes,
  • Coaches,
  • Sports officials and referees,
  • Program leaders and instructors in recreation, sport, and fitness.
Please note that Quebec offers a much wider list of eligible areas in which an immigrant can be self-employed. However, the eligibility criteria are more stringent for the Quebec program.
Benefits of Being a Self-Employed in Canada

Here are the top-5 reasons Canadians give for choosing to become self-employed:

  • Freedom, being one’s own boss;
  • Flexible working hours;
  • Better work-family balance;
  • More money and higher income potential
  • Creativity and satisfaction.

Canada’s immigration system offers very liberal eligibility requirements for self-employed persons. First of all, there are no minimum net worth requirements or starting deposits. However, you will have to satisfy a visa officer that you have enough money to settle in Canada. This means you have sufficient funds to give you the ability to set up your business on your terms, contributing to the Canadian economy in your unique way without the pressure of a quick profit margin.

Additionally, Canada offers Employment Insurance (EI) benefits for self-employed people who have registered and paid premiums into the EI system for at least one year and face a large reduction in their income under certain circumstances. These include:

  • Maternity benefit for people who are away from work because they are pregnant or have recently given birth;
  • Parental benefit for parents who are away from work to care for their newborn or newly adopted child;
  • Sickness benefit for people who cannot work for medical reasons;
  • Family caregiver benefit for children for people who provide care or support to a critically ill or injured person under 18;
  • Family caregiver benefit for adults who provide care or support to a critically ill or injured person 18 or over;
  • Compassionate care benefit for people who provide care or support to a person who requires end‑of‑life care.
Who Can Apply for the Self-Employed Persons Program?

To apply for the Self-Employed Persons Program (SEPP), a person must:

  1. Have relevant experience: Experience is considered relevant if a candidate: (a) has been self-employed in cultural activities or athletics or (b) has taken part in cultural or athletics at a world-class level. The applicant must have at least two one-year periods of experience during the period five years before the application date to the day a decision is made on the candidate's application. The more years of experience a person has, the higher their chances of being granted permanent residence.
  2. Score at least 35 points on a selection grid: The IRCC assesses an individual on a point system using six selection criteria.
  3. Be willing and able to be self-employed in Canada: An applicant may be interviewed to prove their intention to be self-employed in Canada.
  4. Meet medical, security, and financial conditions: An applicant and their family members who come to Canada with them must clear a medical exam, get a police certificate, and have enough money to support themselves and their dependents.
Selection Criteria for Canada’s SEPP

To be eligible for the Self-Employed Persons Program, an individual must score a minimum of 35 points on a selection grid designed to determine an applicant’s ability to contribute to the Canadian economy. The maximum possible score is 100 points. There are five selection criteria used in the assessment:

Selection criterion

Max points







Language proficiency in English or French




The pass mark is only 35 points; however, such a score does not guarantee success in obtaining permanent residence. The higher your score, the greater your chances.

Please note that as part of the immigration process you can be invited for an interview with a visa officer. They can ask you to explain:

  • Information that is unclear or inconsistent, or
  • Gaps in the documents that you provide.

If there is a difference between the information you provide and the visa officer’s assessment, you will be awarded points based on the officer’s assessment. So, it is important to provide clear and accurate information in your application, our team can assist you in preparing for this rather complicated process.

How to Apply for the Self-Employed Persons Program

You must use the following procedure to apply:

  1. Gather all required documents: You must have this set of documents ready before applying for the SEPP:
    • Language proficiency test results;
    • Proof of your education;
    • Proof of your relevant experience.
  2. Pay the application fees: You must pay all required fees online.
  3. Apply for Permanent Residence: You must fill out all required forms and submit the application form only by mail, along with the supporting documents.
  4. Wait for approval: If IRCC approves your application, you will be issued a permanent resident visa. This includes your Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) and your entry visa. You must have your COPR card and your visa with you when you arrive in Canada.
Permanent Residence for Self-Employed Persons in Québec

Immigration to French-speaking Québec is a shared jurisdiction between the government of Québec and the government of Canada. Thus, the immigration process for self-employed persons in Québec differs from that of other provinces and territories. Immigration to Québec is a two-stage process:

  1. First, you must apply to the government of Québec for the Québec Selection Certificate (QSL);
  2. After receiving your QSL, you apply to IRCC for permanent residence.

There is a special immigration program for persons who are interested in coming to Québec to create their own jobs and work as self-employed professionals or tradespersons. It is called the Self-Employed Worker Program. To be eligible for this program, an individual must:

  • Have at least two years of experience as a self-employed worker in the profession or trade they intend to practice in Québec;
  • Have minimum net assets of CAN $100,000 and proof of its source and lawful acquisition;
  • Make a start-up deposit at a financial institution located in the region where you intend to practice your trade or profession: CAN $25,000 start-up deposit if outside the Montréal Metropolitan Community (MMC) area and CAN $50,000 start-up deposit if in the MMC area;
  • Obtain an attestation of learning about democratic values and Québec values in the immigration office.

After a candidate submits an application for the QSL, the application is assessed on factors such as:

  • Applicant’s age;
  • Level of education;
  • Language skills;
  • Financial self-sufficiency;
  • Adaptability.

If the result of the application assessment is positive, a candidate will receive the Québec Selection Certificate by mail. After receiving the QSL, a candidate must submit an application for permanent residence to IRCC, the federal department responsible for immigration affairs.

Please note that a candidate must pay fees for processing both applications:

  • For the Québec Selection Certificate: CAN $1,113 and
  • For permanent residence: CAN $2,075.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions that our client ask; if your question is not covered here, please contact us.
How We Can Help

If you are interested in exploring a self-employed person’s immigration route, we can help you with the process from start to finish. We will explain how the process works and calculate your points and assess your eligibility. We will ensure that your applications are filled accurately and completely, to improve the likelihood of success. Contact us; our team of experts will be glad to assist you in your quest.

If you are unsure about your likelihood for success, contact us for a free evaluation. We will give you a realistic assessment of your chances of success and assist you in developing a strategy for a successful outcome. We can guide you on how to avoid pitfalls and improve your chances of obtaining permanent residence in Canada as a self-employed person. We can also recommend other programs that may be suitable for you if programs for self-employed are not suitable for your profile.