Canada is currently underestimating the true count of non-permanent residents in the country – including international students – by more than a million, says Benjamin Tal, the deputy chief economist of CIBC Capital Markets.
Tal said in an interview that while the government estimate of the number of non-permanent residents in Canada was around one million in 2021, he believes the actual number to be close to two million.
This discrepancy arrives because the Government of Canada does not count the number of people living in the country without a visa, writes the Globe and Mail in relation to Tal’s findings.
Herein, Statistics Canada software and coding assumes that temporary visa holders leave Canada within 30 days of their visa’s expiration, even though the majority stay and instead apply to extend their stay in Canada.
Tal said that by adopting this practice, Statistics Canada accounts for just 750,000 of the million non-permanent residents that are absent from official numbers. On top of that, another 250,000 (most of which are international students) are absent from census data.
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The most recent census forms asked students to submit their information if they were living in their main residences. However, they were told to not fill out the census if they return home to live with their parents during the year.
As this caused confusion with students, not all of them filled out the census, as they believed their main residence to be outside Canada.
“This is why even Statistics Canada believes that the census continues to undercount NPRs with valid visas in Canada,” Tal said, with “NPRs” being an abbreviation for “non-permanent residents.”
This – among other repercussions – causes an underestimation of the number of new homes needed to meet growing housing needs, writes Marie Woolf for The Globe and Mail.
“The practical implication of that undercounting is that the housing affordability crisis Canada is facing is actually worse than perceived, and calls for an even more urgent and aggressive policy action,” reported Tal on his findings.
Moreover, the census shortfall has implications for Canada housing policy, because the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (which is the federal Crown corporation responsible for housing) uses census data to make forecasts, which are used by planners across Canada.
“If your starting point is too low, your forecast will be far too low, resulting in a suboptimal planning process,” Mr. Tal said.
Canada immigration levels have been increased to historic highs, with the country expected to welcome more than 1.5 million immigrants in the next three years (at a rate of approximately 500,000 new permanent residents every year).
Furthermore, the new Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Minister Marc Miller has shown no intention of slowing that down, and instead plans on maintaining or boosting immigration to Canada.
However, The Globe and Mail story details how the numbers detailed above are restricted to permanent resident applications only, and do not include temporary visa statuses such as international students and foreign workers under them.
Tal – although asserting the conservative nature of the figures – is backed up by Henry Lotin, who is the founder of Integrative Trade and Economics and a former federal economist.
In his briefing paper, he says that “upwards of one million persons are missing in the official population, largely due to expired visa holders remaining in Canada awaiting new visas.”