Ontarians on the Move, 2021 Edition. #13 — Where are Ontario’s International Students Living?

Thirteenth in (what I hope) will be a series on population growth, migration, and what’s going on with Ontario’s housing market. Previous piece: #12 — Where are Ontario’s Non-Permanent Residents Living?

TL;DR version: Ontario’s spike in non-permanent residents is primarily caused by growth in the number of international students. This leads to the question: Where are they living? Turns out, that’s a harder question to answer than you may think, due to Canada’s lack of seriousness when it comes to international migration data. But what we do know is there’s almost certainly over 100,000 living in the GTA alone.

The previous two pieces have examined the growth in Ontario’s non-permanent resident population since 2015. The majority of the increase is due to rapid growth in the number of international students in the province and as we saw in Piece #11, the vast majority of those students are holding permits to attend post-secondary institutions:

Sources: Student Permit Data and International Mobility Permit Data.

In Piece #12, we saw where non-permanent residents as a whole were living in Ontario, but not specifically where international students are located. The study permit data does have a breakdown by Census Metropolitan Area but the time series only spans from the 1st quarter of 2015 to the 1st quarter of 2018, because this is Canada and we can’t have nice things.

Here’s what we do have and it shows some pretty massive changes:

Sources: Student Permit Data and International Mobility Permit Data.

It’s important to note that, study permits issued is not the same thing as active enrollments. Students could be issued a permit and not show up, or leave early, so the correlation between this data and enrollment data and population data is not perfect. But it’s what we’ve got, so let’s go with it.

Keeping that in mind, in just two years, the number of study permit holders rose by nearly 10,000 in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge! That’s a massive increase for a community over a half-a-million.

However, this approach is almost certainly overestimating the impact on the housing market. An international student graduates in the spring, returns home, and an incoming student arrives in the fall. That would count as two permits, though they’re never here at the same time.

An alternative approach would be to just count the international permits in a given month. Let’s use January, since we have an additional year’s worth of data. We’ll miss some students, but this will give us a better idea of how many housing units are needed to support a growing population:

Sources: Student Permit Data and International Mobility Permit Data.

Not surprisingly, the numbers are somewhat lower, but they’re still quite high. In just three years the number of study permit holders rose by over 100,000. Almost half of this growth was in the GTA, but Southwestern Ontario is quite well represented with K-C-W, London, Windsor, and St. Catharines-Niagara. Kingston experienced a nearly 10-fold increase!

This influx of young talent is a great thing for an aging province. But we need to ensure that there is adequate housing to support this growing population. 50,000 new young people in the GTA in just 3 years, 10,000 in Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, over 5,000 in London, Ottawa, Windsor and St. Catharines-Niagara. That is a tremendous level of growth in a short period of time.

In the next piece, we’ll examine which schools those students are attending. Like too many questions involving Canadian data, it’s harder to answer than it should be.

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.