There are one million more non-permanent residents and foreign students living in Canada than the number presented by federal government figures, according to an analysis report from a leading economist.
CIBC Capital Markets Deputy Chief Economist Benjamin Tal told federal cabinet ministers during a briefing at their recent cabinet retreat in Charlottetown that their official number of non-permanent residents (NPR) had been vastly undercounted.
Tal warned the Liberal government that this undercounting in the official statistics means that Canada is, in turn, also underestimating the amount of new houses that will need to be built to alleviate Canada’s housing crisis.
In 2021, the government estimated that around one million non-permanent residents lived in Canada; however by Tal’s analysis, that number is closer to two million, he said in an interview with the Globe and Mail. He argued that the main reason for this discrepancy is that the government wasn’t counting people who continue to live in Canada once their visas have expired.
The misconception is linked to how Statistics Canada tallies its data regarding temporary resident visa holders, including students. Tal said that Statistics Canada presumes visa holders leave Canada within 30 days of their visas expiring, despite that often not being the case.
“Their software, their coding, makes the assumption that 30 days after your visa expired you left the country, despite the fact you have not left the country,” said Tal, adding that many will remain past that time frame and often apply to extend their stays.
On Wednesday, Tal published a report of his research, writing, “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.”
The Trudeau government has raised immigration levels and future targets to some of the highest levels in the country’s history, with a target goal of reaching 500,00 new immigrants annually from now until 2025. That half-a-million figure does not include people on temporary work permits or foreign student visas.
The number of student visas issued currently has no maximum and the program was recently discovered to be riddled with fraud, leading to an investigation by the Canadian Border Security Agency.
Housing Minister Sean Fraser told reporters that the government was considering capping the amount of visas issued, citing the program’s “explosive growth” and its effects on housing.
The cost of housing, whether to rent or buy, has become perhaps the forefront political issue over the last several years and the Conservatives have been pushing the Trudeau government to step up when it comes to solutions on the matter.
Tal said that Statistics Canada’s assumption regarding students leaving 30 days after visa expiration only accounts for around 750,000 of the roughly one million non-permanent residents missing from the official statistics.
Another 250,000 international students are missing from the census data, according to Tal, who said the paperwork can be confusing for many students.
The most recent census forms ask students to fill out their information if they are living in their main residences but not to do so if they are returning home to live with their parents during the year. Tal said many students found the wording confusing and they thought that their main residences were abroad.
“This is why even Statistics Canada believes that the census continues to undercount NPRs with valid visas in Canada,” said Tal.
Tal said that the incorrect census data will directly affect housing policy because the federal Crown corporation responsible for housing, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, relies on that census data to make predictions that will inform planners across the country.
“If your starting point is too low, your forecast will be far too low, resulting in a suboptimal planning process,” said Tal, who added that even the figures in his report are conservative.
Another paper by the founder of Integrative Trade and Economics, Henry Lotin, concurred with Tal’s analysis.
“Upwards of one million persons are missing in the official population, largely due to expired visa holders remaining in Canada awaiting new visas.” wrote Lotin, a former federal economist.
Similarly to Tal’s report, Lotin also suggested that Statistics Canada change its method of analysis to include holders of expired visas.