Qualifying Work Experience for Immigration to Canada

Overall there are more than 80 pathways to permanent residency for workers across Canada. In this article, we will break down some of main questions you may have work experience, and how to qualify for immigration to Canada, including:

  • Does my work experience qualify me for immigration?
  • How much work experience do I need to immigrate?
  • How can I prove my work experience?

Question: Does my Work Experience Qualify me for Immigration?

The National Occupational Classification (NOC)

Now, to the first question, on whether your work experience qualifies for immigration. To start off, we need to look at something called the National Occupational Classification or (NOC). The NOC is, essentially, a listing of all the possible jobs which are available in the Canadian labour market. Each job has a specific NOC code, and this code tells us important information about that job, such as duties, responsibilities, and the education or training required to get that job.

If you’re just starting out on your immigration journey, one of the first steps you take is determining what NOC code (or codes) your work experience falls under. In some cases, it’s simple to find your NOC code. For particular professions, such as accountant, lawyer, cook, or baker, for example, there are well defined duties and responsibilities which tend to apply both in Canada and in other countries. In other cases, however, it might be a little more complicated to find the NOC code which matches your work experience from outside Canada. 

This could be because your job incorporates elements from two or more NOC listings. Or, you might have a difficult to define, or non-traditional job, which doesn’t fit neatly into one of the categories.

Moreover, certain professions in Canada are named and regulated differently than they may be in other countries. Take engineering, for example. To work with the title of engineer in Canada, you need to have graduated from an approved engineering university program, and also have an engineering licence in the province or territory where you live.

There are many job titles outside of Canada which may include the word ‘engineer’ in the title. However, if applying the duties, responsibilities, and education requirements to some of these roles, the correct NOC code may actually be something different than ‘engineer’, and might instead contain the words ‘technologist’ or ‘technician’. This is just one example of many - the important point is that everyone needs to be careful to find their correct NOC code.

For most applicants, the NOC code for your work experience is critical to your eligibility for permanent residence. And if you select the wrong NOC code, or you select an NOC code you can’t prove with documentation, you could face big problems in the future, no less than the refusal of your application, or worse, a ban on making applications in the future, so it’s important to get things right.

The Official National Occupational Classification

How to Find your NOC Code

To get started with looking up your NOC code, you can use IRCC’s own search tool. On this page, scroll down to the search bar, where you’ll be able to filter based on job title. In some cases, it’s a quick process to find NOC code this way, but in other cases, you might need to explore the NOC list directly. The link to this list is also in the description below.

Now, let’s talk about a central component to NOC codes, which is their skill level. Currently, jobs are broken down into 5 skill-levels, 0, A, B, C, and D. Skill levels 0 and A refer to jobs which generally require a university education. Skill level B, refers to jobs which generally require a college education, or some formal technical training. Skill level C refers to jobs which may require high school or some on-the-job training. When looking up professions in IRCCs search tool, you will also see the skill level code for the job on the right side.

Big Changes Coming Soon

One important disclaimer: it is expected that in mid to late 2022, IRCC will be updating their skill-ranking system to what is called the TEER system. TEER stands for Training, Education, Experience, and Responsibilities. Rather than letters, the TEER system will use a number ranking system, from 0 to 5, which corresponds with an update to the NOC code list. Under this system, jobs currently called level A will correspond to TEER category 1. Jobs currently called level B, will correspond to Category 2 or Category 3 - we will have to wait until the release, to see where exactly certain jobs will land on the TEER scale. In any case, until the official change, we need to keep using the current, lettered ranking system.

The Importance of Skill-Level

So why is this all so important? For all economic immigration programs, the skill level of the job with which you claim your work experience is a main determinant of eligibility. To break this down, let’s start with Canada’s largest immigration system, Express Entry.

Express Entry from Outside of Canada

If you are outside Canada, and planning on entering Express Entry, you most likely will do so under the Federal Skilled Worker Program. The federal skilled worker program requires, at a minimum, that you have one year of full-time work experience, obtained within the past 10 years. One year of work experience is equivalent to 1560 hours (or 30 hours/week over a one year period).  While one year is the minimum, you will gain more qualification points for each year, up to 6 years of total experience. 

This work experience must be in a job, which is at a skill level of 0, A, or B (generally, requiring university or college). If your work experience falls under skill levels C or D, you don’t qualify.

Express Entry from Inside Canada

The preferred program in Express Entry, for applicants inside Canada, is the Canadian Experience Class. Under this program, you need one year of full-time work experience inside Canada. If you have more than one year, you will have an additional advantage. Just like the Federal SKilled Worker Program, your work experience must be in a job that has a skill level of 0, A, or B.

It’s also important to note that for the Canadian Experience Class this work experience cannot be obtained while you were a full-time student. If you’re currently studying in Canada, you’ll need to finish your studies before your work experience will count towards this program.

The Provincial Nominee Program

Let’s talk now about the Provincial Nominee Program (or PNP). In the PNP, each province of Canada can establish their own immigration streams that work either with Express Entry, or separately from it.  The Provinces often target specific occupations which are in-demand in that region, and having work experience, or a job offer in a qualifying occupation, could land you a provincial nomination, which is essentially a ticket to Permanent Residence.

Therefore, once you learn your NOC Code, you want to check if there is a stream of the Provincial Nominee Program which applies to your profession. There are more than 80 PNP streams across Canada, so there's no way to cover all of them here, but we’ll cover a couple popular examples.

In British Columbia, the Tech stream invites applicants who are currently working in 29 in-demand occupations in the tech sector. The list includes jobs such as: mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineers, IT analysts and consultants, web designers and developers, graphic designers, and many more.

An important feature of the PNP across Canada, is that in many cases, it is designed to attract people in occupations at the skill levels of C or D. Meaning, applicants who don’t qualify in Express Entry because of the skill-level of their jobs, may actually qualify through the PNP.

One example of this comes from Ontario, which has the Employer Job Offer: In-Demand Skills stream. This stream targets applicants who have recent experience under in-demand occupations in the province. Qualifying occupations include nurse aids, construction workers, transport truck drivers, general farm workers, and many more.

Question: How do I Prove my Work Experience?

Required Documents for Your Application

When you create an Express Entry profile, for example, you actually don’t need to provide proof of your eligibility at that time. The profile is only a declaration of the experience you have. However, once you receive an Invitation to Apply for Permanent Residence, you will need to prove the experience you’ve claimed.

To do this, you need a reference or experience letter from the employer. This should be an official document, which includes important details about your employment, such as all the positions you held, your duties and responsibilities, dates and and number of hours worked, salary and benefits, as well as contact information for your immediate supervisor or manager at the company. It must be clear that the job does fall within the NOC code that you have claimed, and your supervisor may be contacted to verify this information.

While not always requested it is also recommended that include employer-issued pay slips, which prove your earnings, for the period of employment. If you are self-employed, you need to provide articles of incorporation or other evidence of business ownership, or self-employment income which comes from third-party individuals. If your work experience is in Canada, you should also include copies of your T4 tax slips, and notices of assessment from the Canada Revenue Agency

A Central Requirement, but Not the Only One!

Your work experience, and your ability to prove it,  is a critical component of eligibility for permanent residence. But of course this goes alongside other important components, including your education, language ability, age, and more. If you are not sure how to determine your eligibility, or how to correctly document your work experience, do make sure to get help you can trust, as mistakes in your application can be very costly!

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