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How to write a Reference Letter

To be eligible for most Canadian economic immigration programs, you need to have some work experience. For many streams, that work experience needs to be ‘skilled’ – meaning classified as NOC Skill Level 0, A, or B. So how do you prove that you have the right kind of work experience?

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First off, you need to find the National Occupation Classification (NOC) codes associated with each of your past positions. Once you’ve found the right NOC codes, you need to prove that you chose the right code by providing a letter of reference for each position.

What is a Reference Letter?

To be clear, a letter of reference for Canadian immigration is different from the kind of reference letter you might use when you’re applying for a job. Instead of recommending you as an employer, your letter of reference needs to verify that you worked for an employer for the amount of time you claimed to, and that your position matches the NOC code you’ve chosen.

The letters of reference that you provide let the visa officer reviewing your application calculate how much work experience you have, and at what skill level. Since work experience is such an important factor for most economic immigration programs, the quality of your letter of reference can have a huge impact on your application. If the visa officer isn’t convinced that your letter of reference is genuine, or if it’s missing some information the officer needs to assess the validity of your work experience, they may reject or refuse your application.

Immigration Tip

If you’ve held multiple positions within the same company, try to get the company to issue separate letters for each position. If you cover multiple positions in one letter, make sure the person writing it breaks up each period of employment.

What Should a Reference Letter Include?

What’s included in your letters of reference, and even how they’re formatted, can make a big difference to the success of your file. The letters need to be formal, and the more information they include about the company issuing it, the better. Ideally, each letter of reference should:

  • Be written on company letterhead;
  • Be signed by the responsible officer/supervisor;
  • Have the responsible officer/supervisor’s name and job title printed beneath the signature;
  • Include the company’s contact information, and;
  • If possible, have the business card of the person signing it attached.

If your letters of reference don’t have these things, it might be a red flag to the visa officer that the employer issuing the letter is not genuine. There are also specific things that an ideal letter of reference should include:

  • Your official job title
  • The dates of your employment
  • Your salary per week
  • Your average hours per week
  • A detailed list of your employment duties

The most important part of your letter of reference is the detailed list of your employment duties. It has to include your daily tasks and responsibilities, and should make up most of the content of the letter.

Remember, the visa officer is not necessarily familiar with your industry, so make sure you avoid industry-specific abbreviations or terms. Your duties should be listed clearly and concisely. The list of employment duties is how the visa officer confirms that you’ve chosen an appropriate NOC code. Every NOC code has an associated lead statement and list of duties. It doesn’t matter if your official job title doesn’t match up with a job title associated with your NOC code, as long as your employment duties match the lead statement and duties.

Immigration Tip

It’s suspicious if your letter of reference matches the NOC description exactly. The visa officer might believe that your letter of reference was created for the purposes of matching the NOC, rather than being an actual record of your work experience. In that case, the letter may be considered “self-serving”, fraudulently obtained for immigration purposes, and not eligible for processing.

What if I Can’t Get a Reference Letter?

A letter of reference is by far the best way to prove your work experience. But if, for a legitimate reason, you’re not able to get a letter of reference, then you can try to convince the visa officer with supplementary documentation. Some examples include:

  • Employment contracts
  • Promotion letters
  • Paystubs
  • Pictures of you at work
  • Sworn declarations from colleagues

You should also include a signed letter of explanation describing why you’re not able to provide a letter of reference. At the end of the day, even if you have a perfect letter of reference, the final decision comes down to the visa officer. Whatever documentation you use, the goal is to put together a complete and thorough record of your employment to convince the visa officer that your work experience is genuine. In general, the more information you include, the more credible it will be to the visa officer, and the better your chances of being accepted.

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