Gov. Rick Snyder is right that attracting talented immigrants to Michigan would be a good thing. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)
Michigan is shifting from a state that once led the country in unemployment and population loss to a place where people are starting to find work and opportunity. Now Gov. Rick Snyder is working to tie immigration to the state’s economic recovery. That’s a good idea.
The more individuals who would call Michigan home, the merrier. That’s especially true of those who aspire to invest in Michigan and create jobs. This state should be first in line when it comes to attracting investors and business owners.
The governor laid a few ideas related to immigration at his State of the State on Thursday. While promoting the value of immigrants is not new to Snyder’s agenda, he says he is going to be more proactive about it this year.
“A lot of it is going to be working with the federal government,” Snyder told The Detroit News editorial board Friday, “to convince them to take certain actions to support us. But I’ve been consistent on this ever since got into office. I’ve just increased the magnitude of the discussion. I think there’s an opportunity to take on those challenges today.”
For the second consecutive year, Michigan has experienced population growth — the first time in a decade that’s happened. Luring new immigrants could help even more.
One of the initiatives to make Michigan a go-to state for immigrants is to create through executive order a state Office for New Americans. This will make Michigan only the third state to do so, in addition to New York and Illinois. State officials are also working with Congress to approve Michigan’s application to become the second state in the country with an EB-5 visa regional center to attract investment. The other state to have such a center is Vermont, so the impact of having one is fairly untested.
But it can’t hurt. The new state office is aimed at making Michigan more welcoming to immigrants — particularly those with advanced academic degrees or entrepreneurial goals. The EB-5 visa is a tool for seeking investors. Similarly, H1B visas draw immigrants with specific skills; the U.S. Senate has supported raising the number of those visas, but legislation has stalled in Congress.
Steven Gold, professor and associate chair of the sociology department at Michigan State University, says immigration reform is generally a product of action at the federal level. But Gold, who has studied immigrant entrepreneurs in the U.S., believes these initiatives hold promise. “It’s a creative solution,” Gold says.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker spoke to the Detroit Economic Club and also highlighted the value of immigration. In promoting an “open for business” agenda, she noted “immigration reform, which will strengthen our workforce” was one of those priorities.
Immigration is one of the better economic opportunities at Michigan’s fingertips. “Particularly if you take a place like Detroit, that could make a material difference in bringing back the city,” Snyder says. “Not just midtown and downtown but also the neighborhoods by dramatically accelerating an immigrant wave and have a situation where it’s going to employ Detroiters.”
Michigan will be limited in what it can do to attract immigrants until Congress passes more sweeping reforms. In the meantime, immigrants should know the state is open for their business.