Ontarians on the Move, 2021 Edition. #11 — Ontario’s boom in non-permanent residents starts at colleges and universites.

Eleventh in (what I hope) will be a series on population growth, migration, and what’s going on with Ontario’s housing market. Previous piece: #10 — The pre-pandemic correlation between home price increases and population growth in Southern Ontario.

TL;DR version: Ontario’s surging population growth since 2015 has been driven primarily by a big increase in the number of non-permanent residents. Almost all of the increase can be traced back to our colleges and universities, as the three groups of non-permanent residents growing the fastest are international students, spouses of international students, and international graduates of Ontario colleges and universities, working here under the post-graduate stream of the International Mobility Program.

Time for a recap. In the last five years, Ontario’s population grew by over one million people. The five years prior, it grew by less than 600,000.

Statcan’s migration series compare July 1 between years. For the purposes of this article, 2010–15 will refer to “July 1, 2010 — July 1, 2015” and 2015–20 will refer to “July 1, 2015-July 1, 2020”. Source: Statistics Canada.

While increased immigration ‘explains’ part of the increase, a rise in non-permanent residents plays the biggest role:

Statcan’s migration series compare July 1 between years. For the purposes of this article, 2010–15 will refer to “July 1, 2010 — July 1, 2015” and 2015–20 will refer to “July 1, 2015-July 1, 2020”. Source: Statistics Canada.

But who are these new non-permanent residents, and why are they choosing to locate in Ontario? Unfortunately, the Statistics Canada dataset I have been using doesn’t break non-permanent residents down by type, so we need to look somewhere else.

First, we need to understand the differences between non-permanent resident permit types. For this I highly recommend Anne Michèle Meggs’ wonderful article How Immigration Really Works in Canada. The piece has a fantastic chart showing the transition path from non-permanent to permanent residency:

Based on this chart, we can break down the number of non-permanent residents into three types.

Temporary Foreign Workers: Employers must obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to hire foreign workers to fill temporary labour and skill shortages. The LMIA verifies that there is a need for a temporary worker and that no Canadians or permanent residents are available to do the job.

Study permits: The study permit is a document we issue that allows foreign nationals to study at designated learning institutions (DLI) in Canada. Most foreign nationals need a study permit to study in Canada.

International Mobility Program: The IMP lets employers hire temporary workers without an LMIA. Exemptions from the LMIA process are based on both of the following, the broader economic, cultural or other competitive advantages for Canada and the reciprocal benefits enjoyed by Canadians and permanent residents.

Although our Statistics Canada population estimates do not break non-permanent residents down by permit type, we can get this data from Open Government. Specifically, we can get the following:

Temporary residents who are in Canada on a work permit in the observed calendar year. Datasets include Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and International Mobility Program (IMP) work permit holders by year in which permit(s) became effective or with a valid permit on December 31st.

And a similar data set for students. Unfortunately, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison with the Statistics Canada estimates, as the Statcan estimates run from July 1-July 1, and these run from December 31-December 31. That particularly matters in the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) category, since many workers on a TFW permit are in agriculture and, as such, tend not to be in the country in December. But it’s the data we have, so let’s run with it.

Here is Ontario’s population of non-permanent residents by permit type, as of December 31, 2000, 2015 and 2019:

Sources: Student Permit Data and International Mobility Permit Data.

The Open Government data is quite granular, so we can break each of these three permit classes down into subtypes, to get a better understanding of population growth. First, let’s start with Temporary Foreign Workers:

Temporary Foreign Worker Permit Holders

Not particularly relevant to the 2015–19 growth story, with the caveat that this is December 31 data, as such does not include many agricultural workers.

Study Permit Holders

In just four years, the number of study permit holders more than doubled, adding over 150,000 young, talented people to Ontario’s population.

Temporary Foreign Worker Permit Holders

This is a long one, as their are quite a few different categories:

I’ve hilighted the two biggest growth categories. “Spouses of students” is self-explanatory. The “post-grad employment” category is a little more complicated:

The Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) allows students who have graduated from eligible Canadian designated learning institutions (DLIs) to obtain an open work permit to gain valuable Canadian work experience. Skilled Canadian work experience in National Occupational Classification (NOC) skill type 0 or skill level A or B that is gained through the PGWPP helps graduates qualify for permanent residence in Canada through the Canadian experience class within Express Entry.

A PGWPP can last as long as three years. Since 2000, the number of PGWPP permit holders living in Ontario has increased by 1500%! In the four years from 2015 to 2019, it went up by over 160%!

A helpful way to break down the data is as follows:

  1. International students and their spouses
  2. PGWPP holders and Post Doctoral fellows (that is, international students that are now non-permanent residents working in Canada)
  3. Every other non-permanent resident

Our chart looks as follows:

So, on net, almost all of Ontario’s increase in non-permanent residents since 2015 traces back to universities and colleges. Although this trend esclated around 2015–16, the entire time series shows that this trend started back in 2008 or so (with the exception of the dip in 2020 caused by the pandemic):

Overall, this growth since 2008 is a wonderful thing. One of the traditional complaints about the Canadian immigration system is that Canadian employers have a difficult time assessing the quality of foreign credentials. The obvious fix to that is to have young talent get their credentials in Canada, through a study permit, have them get a job through the PGWPP, then allow them to stay as permanent residents through express entry. It makes Ontario a younger, more talented, more innovative place. Over the last decade, I’ve hired quite a few young graduates on PGWPP permits; I’m a fan of the program.

But we need to make sure they, and everyone else, in the province, has a place to call home. There’s a lot of debate online (and offline) about to what extent foreign students are buying homes, leading to the housing shortage. In my view, this is largely beside the point. These students and workers need to live somewhere, regardless of whether it’s their name on the deed or they’re renting from someone else. We need to start thinking of them as people and not simply an input of production or a source of foreign dollars.

In short, we’ve been actively trying to recruit international talent to come to Ontario, refusing to build the homes necessary to house that talent, then somehow being stunned when prices go up.

And, unless international students decide that Ontario is no longer an attractive destination, housing shortages are only going to get worse, not better. There’s absolutely no coherence between our higher education policies and our housing policies. None. Our policy makers are operating in silos and, quite frankly, they need to smarten up.

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.