The National Occupational Classification System

Meurrens LawImmigration Trends

Much of Canada’s immigration system is based on Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (“Service Canada’s“) National Occupational Classification (“NOC“) system.  Economic class applicants generally need to understand the NOC system because the success of their applications will depend on them demonstrating that they have qualifying experience or pre-arranged employment in certain NOCs.  Employers submitting Labour Market Impact Assessment applications to the Ministry of Economic and Social Development Canada (“ESDC“) need to know which NOCs their vacant positions fall under because this will determine the respective prevailing wage and recruitment requirements.  Indeed, it is arguable that international graduates should pay attention to the NOC of their first jobs out of post-secondary school because only experience in certain NOCs will count towards immigration.

What is the National Occupational Classification?

According to the Service Canada website, the NOC  is the authoritative resource on occupational information in Canada.  The NOC is the nationally accepted taxonomy and organizational framework of occupations in the Canadian labour market.  Under the NOC system, almost all occupations in Canada are identified and grouped primarily in terms of the work usually performed, this being determined by the tasks, duties, and responsibilities of an occupation.  Every occupation in Canada is given a 5 (previously 4) digit NOC code. The starting place to determine a position’s NOC code is to go to the Service Canada website, type in the job title (or similar titles), and see which NOC code is most applicable.

For example, a search of “Cook” on Service Canada’s NOC website reveals the following possible NOC codes containing the word “Cook”:

The NOC Matrix

For most immigration programs, the most important aspect of the NOC system to understand is the distinction between “High-Skilled” and “Low-Skilled” positions.  The distinction between the two skill levels is important for most economic immigration programs and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Under the NOC system, occupations are divided into numerous Skill Levels as follows:

NOC Skill Level





Occupation usually requires university education


Occupation usually requires college education or apprenticeship training


Occupation usually requires secondary school and/or occupational specific training


On-the-job training is usually provided for occupations.

Service Canada has produced a useful matrix showing which Skill Level each NOC falls on its website:

Occupations which fall under NOC Skill Level O, A, or B are considered “High-Skilled.”  Occupations which fall under NOC Skill Level C or D are considered Low-Skilled.

In 2021, the 2016 NOC was replaced with the 2021 NOC. NOC 2021 resulted in NOC 0, A, B, C and D being replated with TEER 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Five groups became six. TEER stands for Training Education, Experience and Responsibility. Four digit NOC codes were replaced with new five-digit occupational codes.

Distinguishing NOC Codes

The distinction can often be very minor, and unforgiving. For example, NOC 6221 – Technical Sales Specialist (Wholesale Trade) includes occupations such as “electronic sales representative” and “farm machinery salesperson.”  These are considered High-Skilled. NOC 6411 – Sales and Account Representatives (Wholesale Trade) – Non-Technical, meanwhile, includes occupations such as “advertising agency broker” and “freight-forwarder.”  These are classified as Low Skilled.  Employment experience in NOC 6221 counts towards the Federal Skilled Worker Program (“FSWP“) and the Canadian Experience Class (“CEC“), while employment experience in NOC 6411 does not.

Often, the duties of two NOCs are very similar.

The Main Duties of NOC 1241 – Administrative Assistants, which is High-Skilled, for example, are:

The Main Duties of NOC 1241 – General Office Support Workers, which is Low-Skilled, meanwhile, are:

The similarities between numerous NOCs can best be thought of by visualizing a Venn Diagram.  Depending on which duties an individual does, it is possible that their position can be classified under numerous NOCs.  For example, it is not uncommon for applicants to state that they have experience in NOC 1241, only to have Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada determine that NOC 1411 is more appropriate.  The result is that the applicant is now classified as having Low-Skilled experience, and is ineligible to immigrate.

Specific Programs

The importance of understanding how to read the NOC website cannot be overstated.  For example, r. 75(2)(a)-(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (“IRPR”) provides:

A foreign national is a skilled worker if

(a) within the 10 years before the date on which their application for a permanent resident visa is made, they have accumulated, over a continuous period, at least one year of full-time work experience, or the equivalent in part-time work, in the occupation identified by the foreign national in their application as their primary occupation, other than a restricted occupation, that is listed in Skill Type 0 Management Occupations or Skill Level A or B of the National Occupational Classification matrix;

(b) during that period of employment they performed the actions described in the lead statement for the occupation as set out in the occupational descriptions of the National Occupational Classification;

(c) during that period of employment they performed a substantial number of the main duties of the occupation as set out in the occupational descriptions of theNational Occupational Classification, including all of the essential duties;

IRPR r. 87.1 meanwhile states that:

A foreign national is a member of the Canadian experience class if

(a) they have acquired in Canada, within the three years before the date on which their application for permanent residence is made, at least one year of full-time work experience, or the equivalent in part-time work experience, in one or more occupations that are listed in Skill Type 0 Management Occupations or Skill Level A or B of the National Occupational Classification matrix, exclusive of restricted occupations; and

(b) during that period of employment they performed the actions described in the lead statement for the occupation as set out in the occupational descriptions of the National Occupational Classification;

(c) during that period of employment they performed a substantial number of the main duties of the occupation as set out in the occupational descriptions of the National Occupational Classification, including all of the essential duties;

Indeed, the term “National Occupational Classification” appears 24 times in IRPR, and can be found throughout the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, ESDC, and numerous provincial nomination program websites. As can be seen above, most programs generally require applicants to demonstrate that their position matches a NOC’s lead statement, and that they perform a “substantial number” of the main duties of that NOC.

Retail vs. Wholesale Trade

As the Federal Court decision in Saatchi v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2018 FC 1037, two other particular NOCs that cause confusion are NOC 6221 – Technical Sales Specialist and NOC 6421 – Retail Salesperson.  As Justice Flavel noted,

In reviewing the lead statements for Retail Salesperson (NOC 6421) and Technical Sales Specialist (NOC 6221), there are several important differences, one of which is that the former sells directly to consumers, whereas the latter sells to “governments and to commercial and industrial establishments in domestic and international localities.” Another way this could be explained is a difference in scale. The Technical Sales Specialist sells technical goods and services to institutional clients whereas a Retail Salesperson may typically sell a specific good or service to an individual customer.

As is made clear from the 2016 NOC, Retail Salespersons are explicitly excluded from the ambit of Technical Sales Specialist. An officer assessing NOC 6421 would therefore have an obligation to ensure that an applicant’s experience was truly that of a Technical Sales Specialist and not that of a Retail Salesperson, and hence, excluded.

The onus was on Mr. Saatchi to satisfy the Officer that he met the requirements of Technical Sales Specialist – NOC 6221. In support of his application, Mr. Saatchi submitted two employment letters. While it is true that both letters stated that his job title was Technical Sales Representative – Wholesale Trade Specialist in Heavy-Duty Trucks and Cargo Vans, his employers appeared to be car dealerships. Further, none of the duties listed in his employment letters provided any particulars regarding Mr. Saatchi’s experience in the wholesale trade of heavy-duty trucks and cargo vans. Mr. Saatchi listed in his CEC application that during his time at Scarborotown he was engaged in “auto sales.”

The Respondent also correctly points out that the Applicant did not inform the Officer – anywhere in his application – that his customers were mostly farmers and construction companies. The Applicant only introduced these details in his further affidavit in the present application for judicial review. This information was not before the Officer and is therefore inadmissible on judicial review, as no exceptions arise that justify derogating from this general rule (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada v Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright), 2012 FCA 22 at paras 19-20).

Cook vs. Food Counter Attendant

Another difficult distinction which often arises is Food Counter Attendant vs. Cook. In Kumar v. Canada, 2019 FC 367, the applicant worked as a Cook at J’s Pizza and Convenience Store.

The Lead Statement for Cooks states:

Cooks prepare and cook a wide variety of foods. They are employed in restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other health care institutions, central food commissaries, educational institutions and other establishments. Cooks are also employed aboard ships and at construction and logging campsites.

The Lead Statement for Food Counter Attendants, meanwhile, states that:

Food counter attendants and food preparers prepare, heat and finish cooking simple food items and serve customers at food counters. Kitchen helpers, food service helpers and dishwashers clear tables, clean kitchen areas, wash dishes, and perform various other activities to assist workers who prepare or serve food and beverages. They are employed by restaurants, cafés, hotels, fast food outlets, cafeterias, hospitals and other establishments.

In determining that it was reasonable for a visa officer to determine that the applicant was a Food Counter Attendant, the Federal Court stated that:

It was reasonable to conclude that the Applicant does not prepare a wide variety of foods because the Applicant only prepares a limited variety of simple foods, such as pizzas, chicken wings, lasagna, salads and breads which are served at a food counter.

Senior Managers

There is often uncertainty over whether a Senior Managerial or Managerial position applies. In Recursive Craft Inc. v. Canada (Employment and Social Development), 2022 FC 1206, Justice Ahmed stated:

I agree with the Respondent’s position. While the Applicant’s counsel stated during the hearing that the Applicant has four employees, at the time of the LMIA application, the Applicant had only one employee and intended to hire two more in the upcoming 12 to 24 months. Given the small size of the organization’s team, I find it was reasonable of the Officer to determine that Mr. Ashyrov – regardless of his title – would not be working through middle managers, but would instead be directly involved in the operations of the business, a position that was better suited to a NOC 0213 classification.

I accept the Applicant’s submission that NOC Guidelines do not address the specific size or structure of an organization, and the descriptions for NOC 0213 and NOC 0013 do not in fact provide any concrete numbers for the size of a company. However, I find that the Applicant’s argument that the Officer erred by considering the size of the corporation is misplaced. I agree with the Respondent’s argument that it is necessary to consider the size and structure of an organization in order to understand what the day-to-day role of an executive would be. In this case, it is also significant in understanding the “kind of work performed”, pursuant to the NOC Guidelines. As noted by the Respondent, the role of an executive in a company with hundreds of employees and a corresponding hierarchy of managers will necessarily differ from the role of an executive in a company with one employee.

As such, I also agree with the Respondent that the NOC 0013 description suggests that it relates to a position within an organizational structure with several levels of hierarchy that allows for middle management – a structure most often associated with larger organizations. The description of NOC 0013 refers to managers who “plan, organize, direct, control and evaluate, through middle managers, the operations of their organization…”. As rightly noted by the Respondent during the hearing, the fundamental difference between NOC 0013 and NOC 0213 is that NOC 0013 refers to positions of executives who operate through middle management, rather than engaging in the work themselves.

Furthermore, while Mr. Ashyrov may very well hold the title of “President and Chief Technology Officer”, I find it was reasonable of the Officer to examine the duties he performs and the role he plays within such a small team. Job titles are not determinative. As the Respondent argues, to accept that Mr. Ashyrov’s title determines his NOC code would elevate form over substance in the manner that this Court has routinely rejected (Katebi v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2014 FC 813 at para 53; Rodrigues v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2009 FC 111 at para 10). Notably, this aligns with the Applicant’s argument that the core principle of NOC coding, pursuant to the NOC Guidelines, relates to the “kind of work performed”. The Officer also explained that as the Applicant’s company grows, it could be possible for Mr. Ashyrov to eventually focus on NOC 0013 duties.

Under the reasonableness standard, the Officer’s decision-making process is entitled to deference (Vavilov at para 98). I find that the Officer adequately applied the NOC Guidelines to assess the job position in the LMIA application, as well as the duties performed by Mr. Ashyrov. In doing so, I am satisfied that the underlying rationale of the Officer’s decision is transparent, intelligible and justified (Vavilov at para 15).