Proof of Work Experience: Express Entry

To be eligible for Express Entry into Canada, you must prove your work experience with reference letters and other documentation. Here's how.

Last updated on
December 17, 2023

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Proof of Work Experience: Express Entry

When applying for Permanent Residence through the Express Entry profile, you must provide proof of work experience to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). This proof of work experience must support the work experience listed in your Express Entry profile. 

In this article, we demonstrate how you can provide proof of work foreign work experience and proof of work experience in Canada. 

How To Prove Foreign Work Experience: Express Entry

Reference letters

Reference letters are required to prove your work experience in your Express Entry application. You need to provide reference letters for all experience disclosed in your work history section.

Your reference letters should be both detailed and formal. A good reference letter for the purposes of Express Entry will contain the following:

  • Be written on company letterhead
  • Include the name, title, and signature of your immediate supervisor
  • Include the company’s contact information, including their name, full address and phone number, as well as the contact information of your immediate supervisor

All reference letters should contain the following details about your employment:

  • Your job title
  • The dates of your employment
  • The hours you worked each week
  • Your weekly salary and your annual salary
  • A detailed list of your roles and responsibilities with the company - this is the most important part. You need to clearly demonstrate how you meet the lead statement and a substantial number of main duties for your NOC (see more below).

The list of employment duties is particularly important - you can use that list to determine the appropriate NOC code for the purposes of your Express Entry application. We will discuss NOC codes in greater detail in a later section. 

Reference letters for work completed while self-employed

Business owners and other individuals who are self-employed may not have access to traditional reference letters. In these circumstances, you will need to provide other forms of proof of work. These may include:

  • Articles of incorporation or other proof of business ownership
  • Proof of payment from third-parties you completed work for
  • Contracts signed by third-parties you completed work for
  • A tally of the hours you worked each week (corroborated by third-parties, if possible)
  • Reference letters from third-parties you worked for confirming your work experience
  • Other documentation confirming you’ve worked for third-parties

Confirming self-employed work experience is more difficult, but this experience is often still considered valid by IRCC and should be documented. 

It is important the Ministerial Instructions for Express Entry exclude any self-employment experience in Canada. This means that you cannot be eligible for the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) or obtain CRS points for self-employment in Canada.

The only required document as per the completeness check is a reference letter. However, you may find it helpful to provide more documents, like contracts, job descriptions and even tax documents (see below).

What to do if you cannot obtain a reference letter

When reference letters cannot be obtained from an employer, you can provide other supporting documentation and clearly explain your efforts to obtain a reference letter.

This documentation may include:

  • Contracts
  • Job descriptions
  • Paystubs
  • Income tax assessments
  • Sworn declarations from colleagues
  • Other documents, such as correspondence regarding your efforts to obtain a reference letter.

You should include a letter with your supporting documentation explaining why you could not obtain a reference letter as proof of work experience. 

At Marin Immigration Law, we understand that obtaining reference letters during the 60 day application window can be difficult. We recommend obtaining these letters when you create your Express Entry profile

Note that reference letters are always the preferred form of documentation, and that the immigration officer assigned to your case has the discretion to accept or reject documentation used to provide proof of work experience if you fail to provide a reference letter. 

How immigration officers verify your foreign work experience

Once your immigration officer has received your application, complete with reference letters, they may contact your employers and immediate supervisors to verify your employment history. They may also use directories to verify the registration of businesses you’ve been involved with, including their contact information. Where necessary, they may also contact clients you worked with when you were self-employed.

These steps are not necessary when verifying your proof of work experience - they are performed at the discretion of the immigration officer assigned to your case. They may contact some of your employers, but not all of them. They may also request further documentation as proof of work experience. 

Understanding NOC codes and reference letters

National Occupation Classification (NOC) codes are used to identify and categorize jobs for the purposes of immigration. Each NOC comes with a lead statement and a list of main duties. For Express Entry, only positions with a TEER code between 0 and 3 are accepted. 

As an example, here is the lead statement and the main duties of a software engineer (Code 21231) according to Economic and Social Development Canada (ESDC), which is used by IRCC:

Lead statement:

Software engineers and designers research, design, evaluate, integrate and maintain software applications, technical environments, operating systems, embedded software, information warehouses and telecommunications software. They are employed in information technology consulting firms, information technology research and development firms, and information technology units throughout the private and public sectors, or they may be self-employed.

Main duties and responsibilities:

  • Collect and document users' requirements and develop logical and physical specifications
  • Research, evaluate and synthesize technical information to design, develop and test computer-based systems including mobile applications
  • Develop data, process and network models to optimize architecture and to evaluate the performance and reliability of designs
  • Plan, design and coordinate the development, installation, integration and operation of computer-based systems including mobile applications
  • Assess, test, troubleshoot, document, upgrade and develop maintenance procedures for operating systems, communications environments and applications software
  • May lead and coordinate teams of information systems professionals in the development of software and integrated information systems, process control software and other embedded software control systems.

The list of your job duties found within your Express Entry reference letter should not exactly match - that is, should not be written exactly the same or copy-paste the main duties.

When job duties are copied verbatim from the NOC’s main duties, it raises red flags for immigration officers, who may investigate further, potentially leading to delays or even the rejection of the application. Your employer should explain in their own words how you meet the lead statement and the main duties for a position. 

It should be noted that the job title and employment requirements are not relevant for Express Entry. The Ministerial Instructions for Express Entry only mention the lead statement and the main duties. However, you should consider providing a letter of explanation to explain the different job titles or differences in the employment qualifications. 

How To Prove Work Experience in Canada: Express Entry

As noted above, the only required document is a reference letter. However, you may consider including other documents upfront to avoid delays and provide further proof of your work experience in Canada. 

Obtaining official documentation

The immigration officer may request official tax documentation from you, including T4s and Notices of Assessment. This is done, in part, to ensure that your Canadian work experience is not self-employed work experience, which is ineligible (unless you’re a physician - see our FAQ for more information). This information can be obtained from and corroborated by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). While not requirement, you may 

Providing work and study permits

You should also provide your work and study permits as additional documentation. 

These documents serve to prove that:

  • You were entitled to work in Canada during the periods noted in your reference letters and Express Entry profile
  • You did not include work experience gained during your time as a student enrolled in a full-time study program in Canada


Providing proof of work experience is one of the most complicated parts of completing an Express Entry application. It is also a very common reason for a rejection. By following the steps we have outlined here, you will be able to provide high quality reference letters or other evidence to support the legitimacy of your application.

Cédric Marin can help you complete your Express Entry permanent residence application, and can answer any questions you may have about the Express Entry application process. Book a consultation with him today!


How does IRCC verify work experience?

IRCC uses documents provided by Applicants to verify work experience. While the only required document is a reference letter, you may want to provide a contract, pay stubs, tax documents and other documents to demonstrate that you worked there. To verify this, the immigration officer may contact companies and supervisors listed in your reference letters. They may also compare previous applications, like study permit applications to see if this information was previously disclosed. In rare cases, they may do field visits. 

How does IRCC verify work hours?

IRCC will use the reference letters and other supporting documentation provided in your Express Entry permanent residence application to assess your work hours. They may also contact employers, supervisors, and your clients to confirm the hours you’ve worked. 

For those with work experience in Canada applying through the Canadian Experience Class, your weekly salary may be compared to the annual salary listed in your tax documents to verify the hours you have worked.  

Do I need to declare all my work experience for Express Entry?

Under work experience, you will declare work experience for eligibility and points. You need to provide reference letters and supporting documents for this experience, as explained above.

When you receive your Invitation to Apply, you will need to provide all your personal history - including work experience - for the last ten years. You do not need to provide reference letters or supporting documents for experience in your personal history section that is not relied on for points or eligibility. 

Can I write my own reference letter for my Express Entry application?

No. Reference letters must be written by your employer - either your immediate supervisor or a personnel officer. 

Are physicians exempt from the self-employment exclusion?

Physicians who worked in Canada and are applying for Express Entry are, as of April 2023, temporarily exempt from the stipulation that excludes self-employed work in Canada. These individuals should not check off the “Self-employed work” checkbox under Work Experience in Canada when completing their Express Entry profile. 

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is general informational purposes and it is not legal advice. The information not a substitute for professional legal advice, and it may not be appropriate for you. Do not rely exclusively on this blog. Always conduct your own research and due diligence. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, immigration laws and regulations can vary and change over time. It is important to consult with a qualified immigration lawyer if you are unsure how to proceed.

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