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How to Get a Work Reference Letter for Express Entry

If you’ve finally received the invitation to Apply (ITA) through Express Entry, you’d need to submit a work reference letter as part of your application for permanent residence.

As a matter of fact, you may be asked to submit many work reference letters, this is dependent on your employment history.

Work Reference Letter

In this guide we give you every needed detail on how to prepare your work reference letter for Express Entry, to ensure your application has the highest possible chance of being accepted.

When do you need a work reference letter for Express Entry?

The Express Entry immigration pathway to Canada is a two-stepped process.

Firstly, candidates must develop and submit an Express Entry profile. Eligible candidates are then accepted into the pool of Express Entry candidates.

Secondly, the most eligible candidates in the pool, based on their Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) would receive an ITA in an Express Entry draw date.

Applicants are given 60 days from the date they receive their ITA to submit a finished electronic Application for Permanent Residence (eAPR).

A work reference letter is solely needed as an aspect of the final application for permanent residence in Canada, so you don’t require a work reference letter in order to submit your initial Express Entry profile. 

However, if you believe you’d receive an ITA, it is a clever decision to try to obtain your work reference letter(s) for Express Entry ready before time. That way, you’d have it/them handy and ready before the end of the 60-day deadline for your eAPR submission.

Which jobs do you need a work reference letter for Express Entry?

As an aspect of your application for permanent residence, your account with Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will notify you to submit all supporting documentation for the work experiences you claimed to have held for the past 10 years.

This is usually requested for both the principal applicants and their accompanying spouse or common-law partner, if suitable.

When drawing up your application for permanent residence, you should endeavor to add all requested documents.

IRCC is extremely stringent when it comes to supporting documents for permanent residence applications. Even a single missing document can frequently result in an application being declined as incomplete.

That been said, there are some circumstances where your application might be approved, even when you cannot submit work experience documents for all jobs in your employment history.

Keep in mind that any document that diverges from IRCC’s prerequisites would only be accepted at the circumspection of the immigration officer evaluating your file, so there is a risk of decline. 

What information needs to be included in your Express Entry work reference letter?

When obtaining your reference letter(s) from both your current and past employers, ensure that they include all the necessary information. Omitting any of the essential information would translate into your letter possibly being thrown out and your application possibly being rejected.

Essential information that must be included are:

  • Your name.
  • Dates of when you were employed or resigned, if applicable.
  • Number of work hours weekly.
  • Job title.
  • Duties and responsibilities for the position occupied (these duties and responsibilities must match those  listed in the National Occupation Classification code you selected to describe the work experience in your Express Entry profile);
  • Annual salary plus benefits.

If you worked at multiple positions for the same company you can submit a single letter, but it must be all-encompassing stating all of the above information for every position held.

The immigration officer will like to see the dates you occupied each position if any changes to the title of your position occurred, your duties, and your salary.

Additionally, all work reference letters for Express Entry must be printed on an official company letterhead paper with contact information for the company (address, phone number, email). The letter must incorporate the name, title, and signature of your immediate supervisor or personnel officer at the company.

In-Canada work experience

If your work experiences are in Canada, you should include copies of your T4 tax slips, this can be accepted as supplementary proof of your employment.


It often is challenging to prove self-employment. If in doubt, consult with an immigration expert.

You would need to submit documents proving your ownership of a business, as well as proof of income, and documents from your clients showing the products/services you provided them and their related payment details.

What to do if you can’t get a work reference letter for Express Entry?

There are some circumstances where you may not be able to obtain a work reference letter for Express Entry.

For example, a former employer’s business no longer exists, or maybe there was a change in staffing and you, therefore, couldn’t get in touch with anyone capable of verifying your past work experience.

Don’t worry yet because, the most paramount thing to confirm when developing your work experience letters, is that you show the following:

  • You’ve to prove you meet the program requirements: Each of the three Express Entry-aligned programs (Federal Skilled WorkerFederal Skilled Trades, and Canadian Experience Class), you’ve have the work experience requirements. For example, FSW needs a minimum of 12 months’ continuous, full-time, work experience gotten within the last 10 years. While CEC needs just 12 months of skilled work experience in Canada in the last 3 years. Ensure you’ve high-quality reference letters which proves you meet the work experience prerequisites related to your program.
  • Proof you meet your Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score requirement: You received the ITA solely because your CRS score was above the cut-off mark for that particular Express Entry draw. The immigration officer assessing your file will make sure that you’ve sufficient supporting documentation to prove that your CRS score is superior to the cut-off for the date you received your ITA. Ensure you’ve high-quality reference letters which proves you have obtained enough work experience to achieve a CRS score beyond the cut-off for the draw where you received your ITA.
See: How to improve your CRS Score

If you have sufficient documents to prove your work experience in both of these aspects, and you are certain of the quality of this documentation, then your application might still be approved, but there is no assurance.

If the rest of your work experience documents are in perfect shape, the immigration officer evaluating your file may use their discretion to approve your application.

Ensure to always submit all requested documents when they’re requested, so even if in cases where you couldn’t get a work reference letter you should still submit a written statement explaining the circumstance and upload this statement in the place of the official reference letter.

What if you don’t have enough reference letters to prove the program and CRS requirements?

If there’s a chance for your to get the required reference letters if given more time, then you should decline your invitation to apply.

If you are still eligible, your Express Entry profile will go back to the pool phase and you would be considered for future draws, but there is no assurance that the CRS score cut-off will still be low enough for you to be invited the second time.

If there’s no chance you would get the required work reference letter for Express Entry, even with more time, then you should try submitting substitute documents to supplement your reference letters to prove work experience for job roles where you couldn’t get a reference letter.

Frankly, this is very risky, as it will leave you entirely at the mercy of your immigration officer if or not to accept your substitute documents.

Examples of substitute documents include:

  • Your Tax forms 
  • Your Pay slips
  • Your Records of employment
  • A Media stories about the company that referenced your name 
  • A Personal letters from former coworker
  • Your Bank account statements with pay deposits highlighted.

If you happen to ever submit a substitute document, please ensure you include a personal statement explaining the documents you are submitting and the reasons behind submitting them in place of the required documents.

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