Michigan needs as many high-skill immigrants as possible to call it home. Detroit needs their skills and investments more than most places. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)
An economy’s greatest asset is its human capital. The more people who work and have skills, the more economic development is possible. Detroit has felt the recession and other downward economic forces more than most places in the U.S., and the loss of human capital has been deep.
That’s what makes Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to attract 50,000 highly skilled, legal immigrants with advanced degrees to the city particularly interesting.
The plan could fill the thousands of vacant technology, engineering, medical and health care jobs in Detroit, and boost Michigan’s economic development in other ways.
The governor’s plan depends on how quickly President Barack Obama and his administration could push for special visas to be allowed to Michigan under current immigration laws. But with recent murmurs from House Speaker John Boehner, national immigration reform may offer relief sooner than later.
The president recently asked Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan for a plan to create jobs in Detroit, and Snyder’s proposal should be included. It would focus on immigrants with specializations in science, technology, mathematics, engineering, arts and business.
In addition to filling vacant jobs, this new influx of fresh talent, ideas and entrepreneurs in Detroit would create additional jobs and opportunities for current residents.
In fact, research shows that foreign-born Michiganians are three times as likely as nonimmigrants to start a high-tech firm. Immigrants are responsible for about 50 percent of the state’s international patents. And in 2011, Michigan ranked in the top 10 for total number of patents among states, according to Global Detroit, a nonprofit that connects southeast Michigan’s economy to immigrants, internationals and foreign trade and investment.
Immigrants also create one-fifth of all small businesses nationally. In 2010, their businesses employed nearly five million people, and generated an estimated $776 billion in revenue, according the Fiscal Policy Institute.
As public opinion shifts toward a more open legal immigration system — and reform is within reach — Detroit should capitalize on its long-standing relationship with immigrants.
“It would signal to folks we are committed to a pro-growth strategy that goes beyond political rhetoric — one that produces jobs and improves quality of life,” said Steve Tobocman, president of Global Detroit.
And as those immigrants work and build families here, the state would reap continual benefits. Michigan universities are already a hub for more than 25,000 international students each year, mostly in science, medicine and technology. But many of them leave after studying.
Snyder’s proposal focuses on getting these students to stay and invest in Michigan. Nationally, for every one student who stays to work in the U.S., almost three additional jobs are created for native workers, according to the American Enterprise Institute and Partnership for a New American Economy.
There are other advanced immigration efforts taking place in the state. For example, online portals allow immigrants to integrate quickly into their community by accessing language classes and other tools, and are the first of their kind in the nation.
Michigan is making a name for itself by attracting immigrants. Snyder’s proposal would help put Detroit back on the map, benefiting everyone who calls this city home.