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Proof of Work Experience and Employment Reference Letters

A common source of confusion when it comes to employment is what can be used for work experience, including what should be on the employment reference letter for your immigration application.

This is an integral part when you are applying for any economic program, and you need to prove work experience. This is key to the programs found under Express entry such as the Federal Skilled Worker, so let’s dive into the specifics of the reference letter and what counts as work experience to qualify.

This blog post is aimed at someone who is an employee, working for a company, and a self-employed individual, while discussing the important points to have in the reference letter for each work situation. We will outline the supplementary documents you can provide as proof of work experience and end it off with what happens if you can't get a signed employment letter, we hope that you will appreciate that every situation is different and that this blog post is for general information purposes for most of the people who will apply. So, let’s get started….

Proof of Work Experience
Whether you’re applying for Federal Skilled Worker or Canadian Experience Class, you will need to show that you have the required minimum of at least one year of skilled work experience.

An employment confirmation letter is one of the required documents and for Express Entry, you should be checking the link for the completeness check as it lays out the required information for the letter. At the time of this writing, the requirements include: 

  • all positions held while employed at the company
  • job title,
  • duties and responsibilities,
  • job status (if current job),
  • dates worked for the company,
  • number of work hours per week
  • annual salary plus benefits
  • printed on company letterhead
  • the applicant’s name,
  • the company’s contact information [address, telephone number, and email address],
  • the name, title, and signature of the immediate supervisor or personnel officer at the company).

It is important to point out that everyone’s work history is different and not everyone has a linear resume, with some people having multiple jobs under one company or multiple employers within three years. 

A common issue and in some cases a mistake are “Do I need to get signed reference letters for every job I’ve had?” And the answer is no, you don’t, and nor should you.

You only need signed employment letters for the declared qualifying work experience. For example, if your current employer is willing to give a letter that fulfills the work requirements and maximizes the points for qualifying work experience then why do you need to have more letters?

You might find that it will be difficult to contact your old employer, then you should consider not including the old job (even if it may be skilled work) in your work history. Any jobs not in the work history can be placed in your personal history instead which will be available to you after you have an ITA or Invitation to Apply.

You need to be planning your work experience along with the employment documents available, as these will be needed in the second stage of the Express Entry process.

If you have an offer of employment from a Canadian employer, such as if they’ve applied for an LMIA, then you must provide this document. This is separate from a reference letter, even if you happen to be working for this employer already.

The information for the offer of employment as per the completeness check is like the employment confirmation but with some key differences including: 

  • the expected start date, and
  • the commitment that the applicant will be employed on a continuous, paid, full-time work, for work that is for at least one year after issuance of a permanent resident visa,

You will need to make sure that you have all the information detailed and signed by the appropriate supervisor or employer of the company. It is always recommended that the person signing the letter is someone who can be contacted should the immigration officer call and ask for verification.

From dealing with previous clients and immigration applications, we find that when it comes to getting an employment letter, if you're dealing with a smaller company, there is more flexibility and generally it is easier to get something that fits into the template of what the government officer is looking for.

However, when you're dealing with a larger company that has established HR departments, it is usually more difficult as they have templated documents with rigid policies that might not fit the format the Canadian Immigration is looking for.

HR will have its own templates for employment letters and will not be willing to personalize or edit them as per IRCC requirements. We're going to address that a little bit, in the last section, but we just wanted to flag that now as this happens quite a bit with different people.

With respect to proof of work experience, supplementary documents can be added, such as:

  • a contract
  • pay stubs or slips
  • tax documents. If the work experience is in Canada, you can provide T4 tax information slips and notices of assessments
  • licenses, if it is a regulated profession, such as nursing or engineering
  • certificate of qualification if it is a trade
  • LMIA (Labor Market Impact Assessment) if you have an offer of employment
  • old and/or current work permit(s)

Again, while this can leave you in a perilous spot with not complying, you need to make sure that you set yourself up so that you provide as much as possible in terms of showing that you have done the job and made your best efforts. Also, you might want to make sure that you have alternative letters from co-workers, managers, etc. that can attest to your employment and time there.

What if you have no boss and you work for yourself? If you are self-employed, then you’ll need to provide evidence of your business ownership first off as this needs to be shown. Some documentation that can be included are as follows:

  • articles of incorporation
  • evidence of self-employment income, such as tax documents
  • documentation from third-party individuals indicating the service provided along with payment details
  • business license or permit
  • other examples can include leases, insurance documents, utility bills, etc.

It is VERY important to note that as per the completeness check, self-declared main duties or affidavits are not acceptable proof of self-employed work experience.

What Happens if you Can't get a Work Experience Letter?
Oh no! The letter from HR only confirms your work position and they will not change it to include more details. Another scenario that happens sometimes is your old company closed and you have no contact with the old boss or the HR department.

This is a common occurrence, and you must show that you've made reasonable efforts to obtain the signed letter. As noted above, you are still on shaky ground because you do have to comply with what the immigration officers are looking for. However, we always maintain when we're filing these types of applications with documents that don't meet the requirements.

First off, we let our clients know that this can be quite problematic, but we'll provide a lot of information explaining their situation. We’ll put in our submission letters to the government that the applicant wants to comply with what is requested by the government. Due to the inability of a third party who is not privy to this application and has no reason or motivation to comply with this, they've chosen not to submit the required documents.

You can also add supplementary documents for the work confirmation, listed above, and see if there is other proof you can get. Some examples can include:

  • signed letters or affidavits confirming your employment from colleagues or old supervisors
  • job posting/advertisement for your position showing the duties and details for the work
  • email proof or correspondence with your HR official/employer stating that they're not going to comply with what's required by the immigration department.
    • It's always nice to do that via email. With that said, and again, this does not constitute any advice, because every individual situation is different. I always present the fact that my clients are doing what they can but just can’t get it due to a third party.

Again, if this is your situation then you should be very aware that you may be risking your application’s chances of being successfully approved. You should really seek some professional guidance from someone who has successfully navigated this before so that you do not sacrifice your ability to be able to successfully complete your application.

It is important to always remember that this work experience is really the nexus of your application so proving this is key to your success.

Final Thoughts
Any economic application is going to require work experience as a factor that you meet the requirements. Remember when you're applying for immigration that it doesn't matter what they're asking you to do. What matters is what you show compliance and because ultimately, you're the one that's on the application. It's incumbent upon you, as the applicant, to make sure that you prove your situation and that you meet the requirements beyond any reasonable expectation. The reason that I like to use “beyond a reasonable expectation” is if they don't accept your application, your next option would be to look at a judicial review. You want to make sure that you're on firm footing, showing that you've gone over and above, doing everything within your power for your case.

Hopefully, this helps you understand what is required to be successful in the work experience area of application. Please feel free to reach out should you have any questions regarding this so that you can get this portion of your application correctly.

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