Immigration helps our economy

Steve Tobocman and John Austin

Immigration has dominated local news of late, from the so-called “Muslim” travel ban to the potential deportation of Iraqi Chaldean Christians who may face ethnic violence if deported. These are headline-grabbing issues and unfortunate value statements about what Americans aspire to be as a nation — presenting an America in fear and disengaging from the world. But what has been undeniably missing from the headlines is an analysis and discussion of the negative economic impacts provoked by Trump’s immigration policies.

A new report, issued this week by the Michigan Economic Center and Global Detroit, details how Trump’s immigration policies freeze and reverse the flow of new people, new ideas, new entrepreneurial energy, and new global connections that have served as Michigan’s economic lifeline in recent years. To fully understand how these policies hurt Michigan’s economy, consider the basic factors that drive economic and job growth. It starts with the number of people working. It continues with the number of people working more efficiently, with greater levels of education and skills to meet the needs of employers. And finally, new innovations, technologies, and business models create new firms, growth, and jobs.

Michigan’s immigrants disproportionately contribute to all of these prosperity drivers:

■Immigrants in Michigan account for all of the population growth in the state and the city of Detroit over the past 15 years — Michigan would still be losing population if not for the 25 percent growth among its foreign-born residents.

■Immigrants, who make up 6 percent of the state’s population, have started approximately 25 percent of all the high-tech firms launched in the state over the past two decades. Michigan’s immigrants are much more likely to be entrepreneurs. The 31,000 immigrant-owned firms generate $608 million in business income and provide employment to at least 150,000 Michiganians.

■Cutting against popular perception, Michigan’s immigrants are highly skilled. Sixty-three percent of foreign-born residents that arrived since 2010 have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Immigrants account for 15 percent of Michigan’s much needed STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers and about half students earning a STEM master’s degree at our colleges and universities.

So while immigrants uniquely drive Michigan’s job and population growth, Trump’s policies serve to chase them away. Realtors tell us immigrants are backing out of buying new homes in the wake of the travel ban announcement. A recent survey found that 40 percent of college administrators have seen a drop in international student applications, threatening to reduce the number of Michigan’s international students who collectively contribute over $1 billion to the state’s economy, accounting for 13,500 jobs.

Trump’s immigration policies are also being felt directly by Michigan businesses who rely on immigrant labor to meet unmet talent needs. Detroit and Ann Arbor companies are among the nation’s most reliant on employer-sponsored visas that allow the hire of high-tech workers. Since Trump took office, these visa applications are down 18 percent and an overhaul of the sponsorship program is underway, putting employers on edge. Trump policies are being blamed for farm labor shortages across the country — which could affect Michigan’s agriculture industry — the state’s second biggest employer. Research by the Farm Bureau suggests that these shortages could reduce fruit, vegetable, and meat production as much as 27 to 61 percent.

That is why Michigan must stay its course and do better. Gov. Snyder has been a leader in exactly that, reminding us that “immigrants make jobs, they don’t take them” and taking important steps to make Michigan one of the most immigrant welcoming states in the nation.

The business community has to step up to protect its bottom line and Michigan’s economic future. While the Detroit Regional Chamber and other economic development organizations have been leaders and strong advocates for pro-immigrant economic development efforts, including Global Detroit’s Champions for Growth campaign, more business leaders have to lend their strong and powerful advocacy to a pro-jobs, pro-immigrants agenda for Michigan.

Immigrants are the key if we want Michigan’s economic comeback to continue and if we want to reach the governor’s goal of more than 10 million Michiganians, or Mayor Duggan’s goal of reversing Detroit’s continuing population decline. But this has always been true. After all, in Michigan, ”We are all migrants here.”

Steve Tobocman is executive director of Global Detroit and John Austin is director of the Michigan Economic Center.