Last updated on June 22nd, 2021

Last Updated on June 22, 2021 by Steven Meurrens

Most Canadian economic immigration programs require that applicants have qualifying work experience. In order to demonstrate that past and current positions qualify, applicants are required to provide references letters from their employers. Such reference letters must state the position title, duration, duties and wage.

Prospective immigrants who are obtaining reference letters should understand how officers determine whether specific employment experience meets program eligibility requirements, why reference letters are needed and how immigration officers will assess them.

Relying on the NOC system

In determining whether work experience is qualifying, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) relies on the Government of Canada’s national occupational classification (or NOC) system.

In the federal skilled worker class, for example, applicants need to have within the 10 years before they apply at least one year of full-time work experience, or the equivalent of part-time work, in their primary occupation that is listed on the NOC website as being skilled.

In the Canadian experience class, meanwhile, applicants need to show that they have acquired in Canada, within the three years before the date on which they apply for permanent residence, at least one year of full-time work experience in one or more occupations that are listed on the NOC website as being skilled.

This reliance on the NOC website applies to almost all economic immigration programs, including determining whether work experience qualifies for Express Entry comprehensive ranking system points, provincial nomination programs and caregiver programs.

Determining your NOC

The NOC system comprises more than 500 unit groups organized according to skill levels and skill types. Each occupational group on the NOC website typically contains a lead statement, example titles, main duties and general employment requirements.

Canadian immigration law typically mandates two requirements in order for work experience to be encompassed by an occupation under the NOC.

The first is that applicants during the period of employment must have performed the actions described in the lead statement for the occupation as set out on the NOC website.

The second is that applicants during the period of employment must have performed a substantial number of the main duties of the occupation as set out on the NOC website.

To quote the Federal Court of Canada, Canadian immigration law “does not mandate a microscopic analysis of an applicant’s experience according to the exact terminology of the titles or duties listed in the NOC.” Rather, it simply requires that applicants substantially are encompassed by a given NOC.

Tips for your reference letters when applying as a skilled worker

Given the law and the jurisprudence, applicants who are obtaining reference letters from employers should follow these following three tips.

It is important that reference letters clearly state duties, as this is how occupations are assessed.

Applicants should provide a copy of the NOC to employers. This is to ensure that all of an applicant’s duties are encompassed, as sometimes the NOC website contains duties that employers might not think to mention.

Employers should not copy and paste from the NOC website, as this leads to obvious credibility concerns.


Finally, it is very important that employment reference letters be concise, descriptive, and accurate.

In Iqbal v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), the Federal Court upheld a misrepresentation finding where an employer had combined the applicant’s job duties. Instead of saying that the employee had worked as a Customer Service Representative from 2006-2009, and then as a Customer Service Manager from 2009-2011, the employer wrote that from 2006-2011 the employee had been a Customer Service Representative and a Customer Service Manager from 2006-2011.

At the same time, pursuant to the decision in Dimgba v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2018 FC 14 it would be unreasonable for IRCC to determine that a reference letter was fake simply because an employer’s website was simple or because there was an inconsistency between contact information on a business card vs the employer’s website.

Finally, in Ragada v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2021 FC 639, Justice Diner stated that it is misrepresentation for an applicant to say that an employer “prepared” a reference letter when the applicant wrote it and hte employer only signed it.