Ontarians on the Move, 2021 Edition. #12 — Where are Ontario’s Non-Permanent Residents Living?

Mike Moffatt
4 min readMay 26, 2021

Twelfth in (what I hope) will be a series on population growth, migration, and what’s going on with Ontario’s housing market. Previous piece: #11 — Ontario’s boom in non-permanent residents starts at colleges and universites.

TL;DR version: Ontario’s population of non-permanent residents has gone up by over 250,000 in just four years. However, they have been unequally distributed across the province. While the majority of new non-permanent residents are located in the GTA, London, Windsor and the Niagara Region are also popular destinations.

In the previous installment of this series, I examined the rapid growth of Ontario’s non-permanent resident population, noting that many of these residents often eventually become permanent residents through express entry:

Over half of Ontario’s non-permanent residents are here on study permits:

And we can tie over 80% of the population back to Canadian schools, as they are either students, spouses of students, or remain in the province on a post-graduate work permit:

But where in Ontario are they living? It’s a tougher question to answer than you may think.

One place we could start is the 2016 Census, which has the most detailed data, though it is several years old. The Census records 201,200 non-permanent residents living in the province in 2016, which is substantially lower than the 257,075 recorded in the Dec. 31, 2015. If anyone has an explanation for the discrepency, I’d be very interested in hearing it.

The 2016 Census data allows for the figures to be subdivided down into a number of geographic types. I particularly like using Census Divisions (CDs), which in Ontario are roughly equivalent to counties (including their big cities). Here’s the 2016 data for every CD. Not surprisingly, 3 of the top 4 are in the GTA. We should also not be surprised to see Waterloo, Middlesex (London) and Hamilton rank highly, as the majority of non-permanent residents are students and these are centres of higher-education:

We can then put together a rough estimate of the current population by taking these figures and adding the Components of population change by census division from Statistics Canada for 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20.

The 2020 population estimate is obtained by taking the 2016 Census data (2016 Cen) and adding the estimated 2016–20 non-permanent resident population growth (16–20 Chg). The 2016–20 Chg adds together the estimated non-permanent resident population changes for 16/17, 17/18, 18/19, and 19/20, shown on the right-hand side of the table.

I’m always hesitant to piece together estimates from multiple data sources; the negative population estimates for 3 Census Districts is illustrative of the type of bizarre results such an approach can produce. That said, I do not know of a better way to come up with regional population estimates so this will have to do.

I suspect the negative results stems from this approach undercounting the total number of non-permanent residents, as it yields a total of 460,650, which is over 40,000 fewer than the number of non-permanent residency permits on December 31, 2019. So take these figures as a likely undercount.

Despite these methodological problems, there are many things worth noting about this table:

  • The number of non-permanent residents in Ontario has more than doubled in four years. There’s your population growth right there.
  • In 2016, roughly 116,000 non-permanent residents lived in Toronto or Peel. By 2020, that figure was almost a quarter-million.
  • The population of non-permanent residents more than doubled in the last four years in Waterloo, Middlesex, Hamilton, Niagara, and Essex. Given these are all centres for higher education, this is likely explained by the international student boom.
  • In percentage terms, there have been particularly large increases in Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Peterborough.

I have said it a few times in this series and it is worth repeating: The influx of young talent into Ontario will help us become a more innovative and prosperous province. But our policy makers need to manage that growth and ensure that every Ontarian has a place to call home.



Mike Moffatt

Senior Director, Smart Prosperity. Assistant Prof, Ivey Business School. Exhausted but happy Dad of 2 wonderful kids with autism. I used to do other stuff.