StatCan changing how it counts non-permanent residents

Statistics Canada said it plans to revise how it counts non-permanent residents in Canada, acknowledging the need for improved accuracy.

The announcement comes after CIBC Capital Markets published a report Wednesday arguing that the federal agency is undercounting the actual number of non-permanent residents by almost one million.

StatCan produces two population counts: the census and a population growth estimate report that includes quarterly and annual numbers.

According to the report, written by CIBC deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal, the 2011 census undercounted the number of NPRs by more than 40 per cent. While this gap has since narrowed, CIBC suggests there’s still a gap of 250,000 people.

“The 2021 census suggests that there were just under 925,000 NPRs in Canada,” Tal said. “While the quarterly estimate suggested the count was 1.17 million.”

In the report, Tal highlights the housing crisis in the country and how undercounting the population leads to poor construction planning thus worsening the situation.

For example, in 2013, the official forecast was that the Canadian population would reach 38.7 million in 2023. However, that number is actually 40.2 million. Translating that figure into housing is the equivalent to more than two years of building capacity, Tal states.

Even if efforts to increase housing supply succeed, the CIBC report warns that it will take years for the supply to reach the market needs as demand, and the actual population, continues to grow.

Additionally, the report emphasizes the shortcomings of StatCan’s practice of assuming temporary residents exit the country 30 days after the visa expires, especially as many temporary residents, particularly international students, choose to stay in Canada after their original form of entry expires.

As quoted in the report, an International Student Survery of the Canadian Bureau of International Education in 2021 showed 60 per cent of international students planned to apply for permanent residency.

StatCan told via email on Friday the number of non-permanent residents significantly increased last year and it was the first time this group surpassed the number of permanent residents (immigrants).

Non-permanent residents have been enumerated in censuses since 1991. It includes people with refugee status [asylum claimants], or persons who hold a work or study permit and their family members living with them.

“It’s true that the level of coverage of [non-permanent residents] in censuses can be more challenging than that of other groups,” read the email. “However, after each census, StatCan conducts rigorous coverage studies to estimate the level of coverage of the census.”

“Our most recent studies on the topic, done in the summer of 2023, demonstrate that the level of quality of the estimates is very high and constant over time.”

In response to the CIBC report, StatCan said the new non-permanent resident data tables will be available starting on Sep. 27, and counts with the new methodology will go back to 2021 numbers.  


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