Michigan Seeks Visas to Lure Immigrants to Detroit

Jeff Karoub and David Eggert, Yahoo! News, January 24, 2014

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder asked the federal government Thursday to set aside thousands of work visas for bankrupt Detroit, a bid to revive the decaying city by attracting talented immigrants who are willing to move there and stay for five years.

The Republican governor has routinely touted immigration as a powerful potential force for growing Detroit’s economy, saying immigrant entrepreneurs start many small businesses and file patents at twice the rate of U.S.-born citizens.

“Let’s send a message to the entire world: Detroit, Michigan, is open to the world,” Snyder said at a news conference.

The proposal involves EB-2 visas, which are offered every year to legal immigrants who have advanced degrees or show exceptional ability in certain fields.

But the governor’s ambitious plan faces significant hurdles: The visas are not currently allocated by region or state. And the number he is seeking—50,000 over five years—would be a quarter of the total EB-2 visas offered.

The program would require no federal financial bailout, the governor said, only the easing of immigration rules and visa limits to help fill jobs in automotive engineering, information technology, health care and life sciences.

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Snyder, a first-term governor who made millions as a computer industry executive and venture capitalist, said it’s not clear whether the White House could act administratively or if such a change would require legislative action.

He said he’s talking about the proposal with Michigan’s congressional delegation and plans private meetings Friday with administration officials while in Washington for a panel discussion about the economic benefits of an immigration overhaul.

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Snyder’s office has said immigrants created nearly one-third of the high-tech businesses in Michigan in the last decade, and he cited a study that found for every job that goes to an immigrant, 2.5 are created for U.S.-born citizens.

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The governor 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 U.S. if it’s in the “national interest.”

Snyder wants to broaden the definition of national interest to apply it to 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.

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