Gov. Rick Snyder (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday he is asking the Obama administration to set aside a disproportionate amount of the nation’s work visas to entice talented immigrants to live and work in bankrupt Detroit.
The Republican governor is seeking 50,000 work visas solely for the city over five years. The type of visas are not allocated by region or state, and go to legal immigrants with advanced degrees or who show exceptional ability in certain fields. Snyder said he’d like the plan to be launched by this fall.
Under his unique proposal, one-quarter of the country’s 40,000 annual EB-2 visas would be designated for such immigrants willing to live and work for five years in Detroit, whose neighborhoods have been hollowed out by the city’s long population decline. Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the Snyder administration plans to submit the “groundbreaking” request to the federal government this week if possible.
Snyder said Detroit’s bankruptcy process is an important chapter that needs to be resolved, but this initiative is about job creation to jump-start Detroit’s resurgence.
“Today’s the day about Detroit’s future,” Snyder told the crowd at the headquarters of the IDEAL Group, a manufacturing and construction company in Southwest Detroit. “It’s about job creation in Detroit and an outstanding opportunity to show the rest of the world how innovative we can be and how Detroit is open to the world.”
At Thursday’s press conference, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said he was supportive.
“We have hundreds of doctors who come from around the world. We train them, complete their residency and they’ve got to go back to their home countries,” said Duggan, former CEO of the Detroit Medical Center. “The hoops we have to jump through to keep that kind of talent here is just terrible. There’s a lot of talent that wants to come to Detroit, stay in Detroit from around the world, and we want to make it easier for that to happen.”
Duggan added more than anything else, the initiative sends a message this region is immigrant friendly.
“As important as anything else the governor has done here, he’s made a clear statement that Michigan is going to be immigrant friendly, and the council members and I are clear that Detroit is going to be immigrant friendly and that message will go out,” he said at the event that also was attended by council members.
The Rev. Jerome Warfield, who called Detroit’s future bright, added the country’s strength is in its diversity and he applauds Michigan for “leading the way for the rest of the country.”
“All of us have a purpose and a part to play in the resurgence and rebirth of Detroit,” Warfield said.
Snyder has routinely touted immigration as an economic driver, with his office reporting immigrants created nearly one-third of the high-tech businesses in Michigan in the past decade, third in the nation. He is scheduled to participate Friday in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored panel discussion in Washington, D.C., about the economic case for immigration reform.
The governor specifically is trying to find flexibility in a waiver that allows foreign workers with a master’s degree or higher — or who demonstrate exceptional skills in science, business or art — to come to the United States if it is in the “national interest.” The waiver is available if an applicant does not have a job or if a prospective employer cannot show that there are no qualified U.S. citizens to fill the position.
Snyder wants to broaden the definition of national interest to apply it to the geographic area of downtrodden Detroit, likening the concept to one already in place where foreign-born physicians can get a green card after working in an underserved area for five years.
Under the plan, Detroit would be allocated 5,000 visas in the first year, 10,000 each of the next three years and 15,000 in the fifth year.
Staff writer Darren A. Nichols and the Associated Press contributed.