Immigration reform may have stalled in Congress, but Detroit has its own plan to get things moving.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, on Thursday, announced goals to attract highly skilled foreign workers to the Motor City, whose finances have been so decimated by the recession that it filed for bankruptcy protection last summer. Detroit, which blossomed after World War II, has seen its population plummet by nearly half in the intervening years to about 700,000. Unemployment is about 18 percent, nearly triple the national average.
To alleviate its own shortage of skilled workers, Silicon Valley has poured millions of dollars into lobbying for immigration reform in the past couple of years. But Detroit appears to be the first city to appeal for qualified immigrant workers. Even if you're not based in Detroit, Snyder's appeal for immigrant workers could, if nothing else, trigger a renewed focus on immigration reform on a national level.
A conclusion to the discussion on expanding visa limits for qualified workers is long overdue. Also, expansion may need to be coupled with an expedited path to citizenship for the same workers, which is a debate that also needs finality.
"Legal immigration helped to build this great city and is just as critical to its comeback," Snyder said in a statement on his Website. "Immigrants create jobs and Detroit is a great value opportunity in terms of business costs and overall quality of life….We're excited about the potential that this initiative holds for Detroit's turnaround, and look forward to working with our federal partners to make it happen."
Snyder's plan asks for 50,000 EB-2 visas for employment over five years. In 2013, the Department of State issued roughly 60,000 such visas for the full year. Under the plan, workers would have to live and work in Detroit. EB-2 are employment-based visas for foreign workers with advanced degrees.
It is unclear if Snyder will need Congressional approval for his plan, or whether an executive authority could approve it.
Last year, Representative Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) submitted a bill called the STEM Visa Act of 2013, which would increase the number of H-1B visas for professional workers with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in June.
H-1B workers are paid more than native U.S. workers with bachelor's degrees, according to research by Brookings Institution, earning about $76,356 versus $67,301 for U.S. workers, according to a 2013 research paper. The higher wage may be related to foreign workers securing harder-to-fill jobs, Brookings speculates.
Each STEM worker retained in the U.S. creates 2.6 U.S. jobs on average, Snyder's office said.