When you apply for immigration to Canada, you’ll be asked to submit several documents to support the information you include in your application. Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) uses these documents to verify your details and determine whether your application should be accepted.
If you’re applying for permanent residence (PR) in Canada through an economic immigration program, one of the factors that improve your chances of qualifying is your professional experience within or outside Canada. To prove your professional history, you’ll need to submit employment reference letters from your current and past employers. In this article, we outline how to get employment reference letters for Canadian immigration, including the accepted format for work reference letters and what to do if you’re unable to get a reference letter from a past employer.
In this article:
- What is an employment reference letter?
- Do you need work reference letters for Canadian immigration?
- Employment reference letter format for Canadian immigration
- Is an employment reference letter the same as a recommendation letter?
- How to get work reference letters from previous employers
- What to do if you’re unable to get a work reference letter
- Will I need reference letters from past employers to find a job in Canada?
An employment reference letter, or work reference letter, is a document that confirms the specifics of your employment with a particular organization. It is typically issued upon request, by your supervisor, the management, or an authorized person in the human resources (HR) department in your current or previous organization.
As an experienced professional, you may need work reference letters to verify your employment history at many stages of life, including when you interview for a new job, for admission into certain higher education programs, or while applying for immigration to Canada or other countries.
Many economic immigration streams require work experience as a qualifying criteria. When you apply for PR in Canada through the Express Entry program or through Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP), you get Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) points based on the total years of work experience you have. For instance, under the Express Entry Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program, you can get up to 50 Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) points if you have three or more years of foreign work experience, and even more if you have worked in Canada for a few years.
To demonstrate that your work history is legitimate and in alignment with the Canadian National Occupational Classification (NOC) codes, you’ll be asked to submit work reference letters from your current and past employers to confirm the details you provide in your immigration application. For these programs, you’ll only be required to submit these documents after you’ve received an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for PR.
In addition, you may need to provide employment reference letters at different stages of the application process for other economic immigration streams, including the Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP), the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP), caregiver program, and Quebec economic immigration programs.
For some temporary or permanent immigration programs that require a job offer, such as for an employer-specific work permit, you may also need reference letters from previous employers to secure a job in Canada.
The employment reference letter format required by Canadian employers may not be the same as the one needed for your immigration application. You may need to contact your employers again for fresh reference letters once you start your job search in Canada. For instance, for employment purposes, you won’t need your reference letters to align with specific NOC codes, but will require work experience relevant to the job opportunity in question.
You will need work reference letters from all the past and current employers you mention in your Express Entry profile. Make sure there are no discrepancies in the details listed in your employment reference letters and what you include in your immigration application.
Any employment reference letters you submit as part of your immigration application must include the following:
- Your name.
- Employer’s name.
- The start and end dates of your employment.
- Your job title.
- The job duties you held at the company. These must closely match the duties and responsibilities outlined in the NOC you selected in your immigration application or Express Entry profile.
- The number of hours you worked there per week and whether the job was part time or full time.
- Your annual salary plus benefits. It’s good to also mention how much that is in CAD.
- The name, designation, and signature of the signatory. This can be your manager, department head, HR staff, or someone in the company’s management team.
- The company’s contact details.
Work reference letters must be on the company letterhead and should be signed and stamped. If you’ve held multiple positions within a company, each job title must be separately listed, along with corresponding dates, duties, working hours, and compensation details.
An employment reference letter is not to be confused with a recommendation letter. A work reference letter is a factual and objective letter that confirms you’ve worked for a particular company and lists your duties and employment details, including your job title and dates of employment. It does not, however, talk about your performance or positive attributes as an employee.
On the other hand, a recommendation letter is a formal personal note from a past employer, manager, client, colleague, or someone in your network, highlighting the qualities, capabilities, and characteristics that made you an asset to their team or organization. A good recommendation letter can make a compelling case in your favour when you’re being considered for a job in Canada. However, you will not need recommendation letters from past employers for your immigration application for Canada.
When you start your job search in Canada, it’s beneficial to have someone willing to vouch for you as a candidate. Recommendation letters from someone in your professional network in Canada can emphasize your skills and help hiring managers see how you will be an asset to their team. Read our guide on networking for newcomers to learn more about building your network in Canada from scratch.
- Start the process early: It can take some time to get work reference letters from past employers, especially if you have a long career history. For Express Entry and PNP programs, you need to submit your documentation, including work reference letters, within 30 to 60 days of receiving an invitation to apply for PR. Ideally, you should contact your previous employers before you receive an ITA and ask for employment reference letters.
- Be transparent and polite: When you ask for employment reference letters, you may need to explain why you require these documents. By being polite and keeping your current employer informed about your immigration application status and expected timelines for your move to Canada, you’ll not only be able to maintain a positive professional relationship, but can also avoid unnecessary delays in getting a reference letter. Remember, when you start your job search in Canada, a good recommendation from past employers will increase your chances of success.
- Tell your employers exactly what you need: The IRCC clearly specifies what needs to be included in employment reference letters for Canadian immigration applications. The work reference letter format may be different in your home country, so be sure to communicate exactly what you need to your current and past employers clearly. To make the process simpler, you can share a sample employment reference letter or a template for them to use.
- Set reasonable timelines: While requesting a reference letter, make sure you give your employers at least a week to draft and share the document with you. If you’ve already received your ITA and have a tight timeline to gather documents, you can follow up with the authorized person in the organization and politely ask if they can expedite the process.
A reference letter from your past employers is the best way to prove your work experience for the purpose of immigration. However, it might not always be possible to get these documents within the prescribed time, especially if you ended your professional relationship with an organization on a bad note or if the person in charge is away.
If, for some reason, you’re unable to get employment reference letters from one or more previous employers, you will need to provide alternative documentation to verify your work history. Some of the documents you can provide in such cases include:
- Paystubs or salary slips from the period you were employed with the organization.
- Bank statements that show salary being regularly deposited by the employer in question.
- Documents that prove your employment record, such as your offer letter, employment contract, joining letter, and resignation or termination letter.
- Signed affidavits from your co-workers in that organization.
If you’re unable to provide a particular employment reference letter, you should also include a statement in your PR application explaining why you weren’t able to get the letter and the documentation you are providing instead. The more information and documentation you include, the easier it is for the visa officer and the IRCC to believe that your employment record is genuine. However, the decision is entirely up to the officials reviewing your application and, even with complete paperwork, there’s no guarantee your immigration application will be accepted.
You will likely need work reference letters even after your immigration application for Canada has been approved. When you start looking for a job in Canada, most Canadian employers will ask for employment reference letters as part of the background check before they hire a candidate. However, the format for those reference letters may be different, so it’s good to ask the hiring manager or recruiter about the information they’re looking for.
When you start your job search in Canada, never lie on your resume or during interviews, as some employers may contact your past employers directly to get a reference or to confirm your employment history.
As you plan your move to Canada, reference letters from previous employers are a key component of your permanent residency application package. It’s important to be clear and transparent while asking employers for reference letters so you can get your paperwork done accurately and on time. Moreover, always make your request in a professional manner as references from employers in your home country will remain valuable even after you start your career journey in Canada.