Peer reviews (start-up business class)

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by IRCC staff. It is posted on the department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

A peer review is an independent assessment of a commitment by a panel of experts convened by the industry association that represents the lead designated entity on the commitment certificate. The peer review process was designed to protect against fraud and to ensure that designated entities’ and applicants’ activities are in line with industry standards.

An officer may request a peer review if it assists in the application process or for the purpose of completing a quality assurance exercise.

To initiate a peer review, the officer must send the appropriate industry association all of the following information via Entrust or by courier

  • the peer review request form [IMM 5765], in which the officer clearly lists the concerns identified during the review of proposal or application
  • the commitment certificate
  • the term sheet/client agreement
  • other relevant supporting documentation

Processing officers must ensure that client-specific information is redacted from the peer review process before it is submitted to the relevant industry association. From all the documents that will be submitted for a peer review (that is, commitment certificates, term sheets, peer review request forms, etc.), officers must redact the applicant’s

  • date of birth
  • country of birth
  • addresses

The officer must notify the applicant that their case is being sent for a peer review.

Peer reviews and assessing due diligence

The industry association will assemble a panel of association members to assess the following:

  • the level of due diligence that was performed by the designated entity and whether it is consistent with industry standards
  • the terms of the commitment (including the investment made by the designated entity, the services to be provided by the designated entity and any fees to be charged to the applicants) and whether these terms are consistent with industry standards

The industry association will also do all of the following:

  • ensure that the business has been or will be incorporated in Canada
  • ensure that the business ownership has been verified and meets the requirements of the start-up business class
  • ensure that the designated entity considered the viability of the proposed business model, assessed the business venture’s management team and verified the ownership of the intellectual property
  • ensure the focus of the business is on a high-growth potential product and/or service
  • validate whether the business was accepted into a business incubator program (in cases where the commitment was issued by a designated business incubator)

Officers should not disclose the identity of peer review panellists to the designated entity or the applicants under any circumstances.

The peer review findings will be returned to IRCC via Entrust or by courier.

Should the peer review identify concerns with the commitment, the officer should send a procedural fairness letter to the applicant to:

  • inform them of the concerns
  • request further documentation to address the concerns
  • make clear that if the applicant is not able to address the officer’s concerns, the applicant may be refused

While the officer must consider the assessment provided by the peer review panel, they must assess all information and the authority to make a final decision on the case rests with the officer.

Incomplete peer review process

During a peer review process, a peer review panel established by the relevant industry association may request additional information or clarifications from designated entities, for example to

  • identify concerns
  • evaluate industry standards
  • review due diligence

In some cases, the peer review panel may deem insufficient the information included in

  • the commitment certificate
  • terms sheets
  • the client’s agreements
  • any other relevant documentation

The panel may request further information from the designated entities. In circumstances where a peer review panel is unable to obtain the information requested, it is possible that the peer review panel will be unable to complete their peer review assessment.

After allowing the designated entity to respond within a reasonable timeframe, if the designated entity refuses or omits to submit the additional information requested by the industry association’s peer review panel, the industry association will inform the processing office that it considers the peer review incomplete and closed.

If the peer review process is incomplete, since there is no requirement for a designated entity to participate in this process, officers must continue processing the application and assess the file based on the available information.

Start-up visa processing officers should proceed as follows:

  • If after assessing the application, the officer is satisfied that a positive final decision could be made, the officer should finalize the application.
  • If the processing officer is not satisfied that the applicant meets the requirements of the Start-Up Visa Program, the officer must document their concerns and the reasons why they are not satisfied that the applicant meets the requirements of the program.
  • If an officer has concerns regarding the requirements of the start-up visa application, they should schedule an interview or send the start-up visa applicant a procedural fairness letter advising them of their concerns.
  • If the incomplete peer review was considered as a factor to refuse when the officer was making their decision, a summary of its contents must be disclosed to the applicant to meet procedural fairness obligations. The officer should take into account the information and new documentation provided by the applicant following the procedural fairness letter or at the interview. The application should then be finalized based on the officer’s assessment of the complete file.

After a procedural fairness letter is sent, the applicant has 30 days to respond to the officer’s concerns. If the applicant’s response to the procedural fairness letter contains new information or if the designated entity provides new and relevant information, the officer should assess the complete file and make a determination on whether to refuse or approve the application.

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