Express Entry – How to draft an employer reference letter that works!

What every immigration officer expects to see when they look at yours.

For those lucky enough to obtain an Invitation to Apply (ITA) under the new Express Entry regime, collecting those dreaded employer reference letters can be a royal pain. However, not every reference letter is accepted. So I’m going to explain exactly what you need to include in yours to ensure you get credit for your foreign work experience.

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As a farm boy, I can remember my dad sending me and my brothers the 23 mile drive to White’s Hardware store in Carmangay, Alberta (that’s my dad’s wagon at the entrance to town), to pick up much needed farm supplies. There were times when we got to the store only to realize that we didn’t bring the money with us.

It would have been a long drive back home to face my dad to explain why we didn’t do as he asked. So we did what any local farm boy would do – we asked Mr. White if we could take the supplies and pay him the next time we were in town….essentially put it on our “tab”.

Fortunately for us, Mr. White knew our family well and trusted us to honour our word. We were able to return back to dad with only mild chastisement for having inconvenienced Mr. White.

However, the old adage: “Your word is your bond“, no longer exists in the world today. And it most definitely does not exist within the world of Express Entry.

It is essential to prove your skilled work experience

One of the most important components of an Express Entry application is skilled work experience. If you are not fully credited with this experience, it could make the difference between your Express Entry application being accepted or rejected.

In an ideal world, CIC would act as old Mr. White and trust in the integrity of people. After all, each time you electronically submit an immigration application, you are asked to “certify that any information provided by you is true, accurate, and complete.”

That should be good enough, right? Unfortunately, no.

One of the most common reasons an Express Entry application is rejected at the permanent resident (PR) stage is due to deficient reference letters.

The critical information that must be included within a reference letter

When Express Entry was first released, CIC did away with all of the old document checklists for the PR programs. When this happened, we were not exactly sure how reference letters were to be worded. Given the sometimes harsh consequences of failing to get them right, it left many of us immigration lawyers quite unsettled to say the least.

Fortunately, as time has passed, we now have a much better understanding of what CIC is looking for within those pesky reference letters.

CIC may still accept some reference letters that are not 100% perfect. However, in CIC’s world of “one touch” processing, who can really afford to take a chance?

I have set out below the essential components every reference letter must include to ensure you get awarded the full skilled work experience you are entitled.

“Tip: Ensure the reference letter is printed on company letterhead. Remember this needs to be an official document and anything less (such as an e-mail confirmation of employment) is just not going to cut it.”

  1. Your full name. Ensure that the name on the reference letter matches with the name on your passport. Sometimes employers will refer to you by your common or nickname. Eliminate confusion wherever possible and go with the name in your passport
  2. Company’s contact information. This should include the following mandatory information with a few suggestions of my own:
    • full address (don’t forget postal/zip code, if applicable)
    • telephone number
    • e-mail address
    • website address (my suggestion)
    • stamped with the company’s official seal, if applicable (my suggestion)
  3. Signature of your immediate supervisor or personnel officer. People come and go from a business, so if your immediate supervisor no longer works there, have someone sign the letter who knew you and is in a position of authority within the company.
  4. Business Card of the person signing the letter. Don’t forget to ensure this is included with the reference letter when you receive it. Obviously you will only need to upload a digital copy of it to the Express Entry portal. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking it is no longer required in our new virtual Express Entry world.
  5. Confirm all positions held within the company. In addition to confirming your various titles, the letter will need to include the following details for each position:
    • job title + corresponding NOC (my suggestion);
    • detailed list of duties/responsibilities (see further information below);
    • job status (if current job);
    • dates you worked for the company;
    • number of hours per week;
    • annual salary; and
    • benefits, (if applicable).

Let’s be honest. There is no “perfect” reference letter.  However, if you can get every one of your prior employers to include all of the information above, you will significantly increase your chances of being awarded all of the skilled work experience points you deserve within Express Entry.

Stay tuned to future blogs, where I will address the process of determining your proper NOC for each position you are claiming under Express Entry.

Make sure to share your e-mail address with me so that you can be placed on my notification list when new information is released on my website.

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65 thoughts on “Express Entry – How to draft an employer reference letter that works!

  1. I al red y created my express entry profile and registrated in Job bank. However when I get email notifications about positions that match with my profile often times when I go to Job bank it says the position was closed by the employer, the same day I receive the email. Is this normal?

  2. My application was refused .because the cic .officer is not satisfied with my document i was not able to upload an offer letter .the only document that i submitted was certificate of employment and cotract .i want to re apply soon .you think i can still get ITA .after i get refusal from my first application . Can you advise me .on this. Thanks

    • Pablito,

      You can absolutely refile your express entry profile. However, I would highly recommend that you make sure the offer letter is uploaded with your application. As I have indicated in previous Podcasts, your application must be complete as the officers tend to refuse all applications that are deficient in any way.

      Good luck!

      Mark

      • Sir im going to re apply my permanent residence .i have police clearance here in canada taken last may 2015 do i need to renew it. Doesnt indicate when is the expiration .

        • Please refer to the CIC website for specific information: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/information/security/police-cert/intro.asp

          Who needs a police certificate?

          In general, you and all the people in your family who are 18 or older need to get a police certificate. You must get one from each country or territory where you have lived for six or more months in a row since the age of 18. (For example, if you lived in a country for eight months but left on a two-week vacation, that counts as living there for eight months.)

          For the country you currently live in, the police certificate must be issued no more than six months before you apply.

          For countries where you have lived for six months or more, the police certificate must be issued after the last time you lived in that country.

          As long as your police clearance was not issued more than 6 months ago, you may resubmit it. However, if it is older than 6 months, then I recommend you obtain a new one prior to filing.

          Mark

          • I have nbi clearance in my country That has one year validity .do i need to get another one of that or the cic will still accept that. I also. Have police clearance here in canada which i acquired last may 12 but it doesnt indicate there when is the validity .if you say that it is good only for six month then it will good only up to october 12. Thank you sir

  3. Hi.
    My concern is a little regarding the NOC code. I have worked in an organization on two positions in the same NOC. Should i get job and responsibilities mentioned separately for both or just one would suffice as the additional responsibilities are few. Thank you

  4. If my company doesn’t have a website then how do I prove that it exists? Would tax returns address this issue? Obviously, I will provide all the details on the company letterhead.

    • If self employed, yes, tax documentation, letters from accountants confirming the existence of the business as well as incorporation documentation etc. would all be possible options.

  5. Hi there,
    I have worked with 7 companies having similar roles and responsibilities so is it fine if i have the roles and responsibilities common ( repeated ) in all the experience letters.

    • If you worked for seven different companies, you need to ensure that each letter is accurate. If they are all the same, IRCC may feel they are not genuine.

  6. Dear Sir,
    I am working in one group.From 2011 till 2012 i was in one business unit of group.Then Company transfer me to another role in 2012 with different role and responsibility as per their requirement.
    Since 2012 till now I am in same role and responsoblity. For reference letter do i need to mention my earlier role and responsiblity and current one or only current will suffice the purpose.Please guide in this.

    • You will need to have a reference letter which includes all the experience for which you wish to obtain CRS points. If you do not include that experience, then you need not include it within the reference letter. However, depending upon how you answer the questions within the Express Entry portal, you need to make sure that you are including all information that has been requested with in eAPR document checklist. If you fail to do this, then IRCC may return the application for not being complete.

  7. Hi sir:
    I have worked in a company as part time job about 7 years ago while I was still a full time student, and I included this experience in my application. But it’s been too long and I can’t get in touch with my previous employer, the only thing i can provide was T4. Since this is not my most important work experience, I am not sure if reference letter is also a mandatory document?

    Thank you!

    • Vivian,

      Good question. You need only include the job experience you wish to have assessed for CRS points under Express Entry. If you do not need it, then you do not need to include it. However, when you are asked about your personal history, you do need to disclose everything that you have been doing during the time period requested by IRCC.

  8. I have agriculture (BSc), forestry (Master) degrees and lastly a diploma in Multimedia Design (Web design & development). But I am currently working as System Support Specialist & Team Lead (NOC: 2281 Computer network technicians) since November 2012. I completed a six months short course in computer hardware & networking before the job.
    Since I do not have any computer engineering degree, can I still apply for Express Entry under this NOC?

    • The Employment Requirements for 2281 state:

      Completion of a college or other program in computer science, network administration, Web technology or a related field is usually required.

      Certification or training provided by software vendors may be required by some employers.

      Any time it states “usually” required, or “may be required”, this means it is NOT mandatory and as such you do not have to have these educational credentials or experience (if this is the case) in order to work in this occupation.

  9. Hello, many thanks fir this helpful post. However, I have some few questions. My current employer has refused to give a generic reference letter (TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN), they are requesting for a specific address for the letter. Who can the reference letter be addressed to.
    Looking forward to a response

    • Having the address is pretty much useless. However, if you need something you can use: 219 Laurier Ave West, 7th Floor, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1L1

  10. Hello.

    I am contacting my former employers and getting all the documentation needed for the EE application, even though I didn’t get an ITA yet. However, I didn’t sign any work contracts when I started working for them and I didn’t keep record of pay stubs. Would the job reference letters be enough for IRCC when going through my work experience?

    Thank you!

    • Junio,

      Documenting work experience is a little tricky when you don’t have payroll records, I am going to try to include this in a new website focused exclusively on Express Entry. Subscribe to my mailing list and I will notify you when it goes live.

  11. Hi Mark,

    I used to work in an organization where I had a couple of designations through the course of my career. One of the designations was “Programmer Analyst”, which is given as an example title in NOC code 2174 (http://www5.hrsdc.gc.ca/NOC/English/NOC/2011/QuickSearch.aspx?val65=2174).

    However, my job description doesn’t match the description of 2174. It rather matches the description in 2171 (http://www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb/p3VD.pl?Function=getVDDetail&db=imdb&dis=2&adm=8&TVD=122372&CVD=122376&CPV=2171&CST=01012011&MLV=4&CLV=4&CHVD=).

    What job code should I apply for in this case, 2171 or 2174?

    • Arun,

      Many people are asking me questions about identifying the proper NOC and because of this, I am going to try to include this in a new website focused exclusively on Express Entry. Subscribe to my mailing list and I will notify you when it goes live.

  12. Mark,
    In my case, I have worked for 4 different MNC organizations in last 10 years (as we need to produce employer letters for last 10 years only) and as per the CIC guidelines, to arrange reference letters of that type would be very tedious, since once you are out of an org, it’s difficult to get any further assistance/traction from there.

    In India we usually get offer letter / appointment letter at starting and relieving letter at the time of separation and which does not include that much details as CIC expects!!

    Not sure if there are any alternatives…

    • Sandip,

      You need to do the best that you can and provide evidence of your efforts to obtain proper letters. Many people are asking me question about these issues and because of this, I am going to try to include this in a new website focused exclusively on Express Entry. Subscribe to my mailing list and I will notify you when it goes live.

  13. I’ve a total of 14 yrs work experience. I can arrange for the letter with roles/responsibilities from my current company where I’ve been working in the last 7 years. I seemed to be having a challenge arranging for letters from prior experience since the managers whom I was reporting to are no longer with those companies. I only have the exit letters on company letter head with the start and end date for those previous experiences. How do you think I can address this issue of arranging work experience letters with roles/responsibilities for past experiences?

    • Shridhar,

      Many people are asking me a lot of questions regarding reference letters. I am going to try to address this in further detail in my new website devoted to Express Entry. Subscribe to my mailing list and you will be notified as soon as it goes live.

  14. Hi,
    I have worked for 6 organization and received reference letter from all. But couple of employer didn’t mention “Annual Salary” in reference letter. Will it be fine or i need to provide letter of explanation on this?

    Secondly, In my second organization, i got promoted as “Sr. Test Engineer” (Mention in promotion letter). Later this was updated in system as “Sr. Software Engineer” without providing any written letter to me. When i resigned, in relieving letter has desigination as “Sr. Software Engineer”. Do i need to provide explaination letter here as well?

    Please help.

    • Hasan,

      AS I have explained to others, I have had a lot of people ask specific questions about the EE process. I am going to be providing more resources on a new website geared specifically to this category of immigration. Subscribe to my mailing list and I can notify you as soon as it goes live.

  15. After Invitation received for Permanent residence. What are the documents need to upload for “Letter of Employment” section.
    And is it necessary to attach Lmia with “Job Offer “section.
    And also is it necessary to attach Educational Credential Asssasement with a ” Education Documents ” Degree/Diploma section
    Thank you

    • Raj,

      I have had a lot of people ask specific questions about the EE process. I am going to be providing more resources on a new website geared specifically to this category of immigration. Subscribe to my mailing list and I can notify you as soon as it goes live.

  16. Hi Sir,
    I see that there is a slot for Letter of Employment, Employment Record and Offer of Employment. I was confused about the difference between these letters as they sound similar. Please help!!

    • I agree that there is definitely confusion about this. The Letter of Employment box is really pointless. However, in order to make sure my applications are not refused for not uploading “something” into that section, I simply upload my employment reference letters as well as the Job Offer for good measure. The portal should have removed that section a long time ago.

  17. Hi! I worked for the same company in two different periods of time, for the total of 12 months. I left that job and then came back to complete the hours for my application, and did it just on time for applying. My checklist requests two separate letters for my experience at the same company. Can I just submit one and explain why?

    Also, I still qualify for Express Entry if I took a break from my NOC position, right?

    Thank you!!

  18. Hi Mark, My company just gave me the title and time period for my employment in the company and didn’t specified my job duties on my release job letter since our company was the third party consultant and due to privacy reasons for their client they cant disclose the job duties. My question is, can I submit the affidavit mentioning my job duties along with the NOC code (including my offer letter, paystub & account statements for salary) and also top of that can I include my peer affidavit too to confirm my role and responsibilities. Will CIC accept that? thanks Raj

  19. What if the boss giving you the reference no longer works for that company? that is the case for my last 4 jobs, all would give me amazing references but none of them still work at those companies.

  20. i have all the certificates where i worked accept one which i worked Saudi Arabia for 13 months i have lost it but from that company i have only one training certificate and i will not be able to get again because the hotel name and also the management has been change so it will make me trouble if i apply for express entry ?

  21. Dear Mark

    Please let me know if there is any alternative if the employer is not giving the reference letters. Will the job offer, experience letter will do?

  22. Hi I am working as a post doc research fellow in chemical engineering in a university for the last one and a half years. Should I use NOC code 4122 or the qualification specific code 2134. My job duties match more with NOC 4122? Pls. help.

    • Ravi,

      I would need to examine your job description carefully. Unfortunately because of the many specific requests I get every day, I am not able to offer “specific immigration advice” for free. I would be happy to help you through a paid consultation. You can make this request through my law firm website: http://www.ht-llp.com/contact/. I wish you all the best.

  23. As I told you regarding my certificate which I lost it and the hotel has taken over to another company and also the management in this cash what I can I do ? If I get from my previous manager with whom I work in that company but he is working for another company. Does it work because the letterhead will be from his recent company.if yesthen please suggest me what he has to mention in that letter other than job description,annual salary,position

    Thank you
    Sanjib

    • Sanjib,

      If you have specific questions that are not answered in the general information I have provided, I recommend that you set up a paid consultation with me where we can discuss your situation in detail. You can access the consultation booking process on my firm website: http://www.ht-llp.com/contact/

      Mark

  24. Hello,

    I want to apply EE. I’m married but I’m not going with my wife, she will join me after one year. Is her police clearance and medical certificate required as I apply for mine now.

    • Absolutely. All spouses of principal applicants must be medically examined and provide police clearances in almost every situation regardless of whether or not they are accompanying the PA to Canada. There may be some unique situations of marital breakdown where an argument could be made that a spouse will not be required to be examined. However, in these cases, the spouse is not intending on coming to Canada in any event.

  25. Hello,

    I did my masters program in UK before I want back to my country home last 7 months. please do I need police clearance from both Uk and my country home.

    Regards

    • You need a police clearance for every country that you lived in for more than 6 months after turning 18 years old. In your case, if you lived in the UK for 7 months, you would need a police clearance from the UK.

  26. Hi,

    I have 3 years of working experience in a company. However, the company has been closed 4 years ago. I still have connection with the employer. Could you give me an advise of how to prove to Express Entry officer that I have that 3 years experience?.

    Thank you.

  27. Please can you tell me who do i address my reference letter to?
    I will appreciate it if you can give me a full address information of the receiver of the letter.

    thank you
    James

  28. Hi,

    I was working for a company 3 years ago and during the period of time I was working there. The owner sold the business to someone else and I was let go 4 months after. My question is who should I ask to write my reference (or experience) letter for me? Should I ask the person who hire me or the person who lay me off?

    Thanks

  29. Hello. I’ve more than 15 yrs of working experience and can take appropriate referrence letters from former employers except 2 private companies whom I had worked for. They both no longer in business for couple of years.
    Experience is 4 mnths for one and 9 mnth for another.
    A have a legal job experience list officially stated in my country (Russia) where records about both these companies are signed and sealed companies authorities.
    Is it enough for EE? What should I do for proof my working experience without RL?

  30. Hi,

    I have my Offer Letter and Salary slips and Experience letter which has my date of joining and date of relieving and my designation.

    My employer is saying that they can not issue the letter of reference. It is against the company policy to disclose the roles and responsibilities of an employee.

    Let me know how we can prove our job in that case.

  31. Hi,
    I have been working in the same company for 20 months which is in Canada. When I was hired I promised to get the supervisory position after 3 months so I worked those 3 months on minimum pay rate. Then I got promoted as supervisor but I was working 32 hours for next 11 months with $3 raise. And after 14 months of my employment they gave me another $5 raise for same position and working 40 hours a week now. So do I need to mention all these stages in my job reference letter? Can I include my first 3 months of employment as skilled work experience?

  32. hi thank you for the info. I have one question on reference letter. is it ok to write hourly rate instead of the annual salary?

  33. Dear Sir,
    Just want to check my company are not providing any job duties letter to employee is there any substitute for this.

  34. Hello.

    To get the letters from my previous employers I’ve sent them a template letter and they just filled in the blanks, so all my 3 letters really look like the same but with some differences (duties, salary, title). They all have their own different headed paper and are signed by the managers. Do you think they might think they are not genuine because they used the same template?

    If they refuse my application how long does it usually take for this to happen? Can I reapply right away?

    Thank you very much.

  35. Hi,
    I am in process of submitting my ITA application. My current employer doesn’t want to issue a Reference Letter at per their policy as the same can get issued only to an employee who decides to exit the company and I am still working with them.
    But I have my job contract, acceptance of job offer letter, bonus letters, increment letters and payslips which I can submit along with my application. Please advise, if the CIC officer can accept my application without a reference letter from my current employer, if I submit a personal undertaking stating the above reason for the unavailability of the reference letter? I have 2 reference letters from my past employers.

    Regards,
    Rajat

  36. Hey Mark,

    Thanks for the detailed information.

    I started collecting the reference letters from my previous employers. I wonder if I will need the original versions of these letters at any point during my PR application? After I upload the scanned versions to the portal, will CIC ask for the original versions as well?

    My problem is that I have several previous employers, and it will cost me a lot to receive the original letters by mail (I’ll need to pay the courier fees by myself). Can I just get the scanned letters from my previous employers by e-mail, since I will upload the scanned versions to my application anyway?

    Thank you