Michigan wants 50,000 skilled immigrants to save Detroit

Immigrants from the Middle East have already set up shop on this street in Detroit.

Michigan’s Republican governor Rick Snyder announced a new plan today to shore up the bankrupt city of Detroit -- and it’s called "immigration."

Snyder wants the federal government to set aside 50 thousand employment-based visas -- known as EB-2s -- for skilled immigrants over the next five years, on the condition that they live and work in Detroit.

“Think about the power and the size of this program, what it could do to bring back Detroit even faster and better,” the governor said. “It’s outstanding.”

And it might be hard to get.

For starters, Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute notes, “Immigration law is extremely specific and most visas have explicit statutory requirements.”

Meissner should know. She’s former Commissioner of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service.

She says the US grants roughly 40,000 EB-2s a year, though the number can fluctuate, and they are not geographically based. So setting aside 10,000 a year for Detroit alone would be new, raising questions of fairness.

“You could imagine putting together a program that is available to financially strapped cities all around the country, so that this wouldn’t just be for Detroit,” Meissner says.

Still, she thinks it’s a creative idea, and an example of how the overall immigration system could benefit from more flexibility.

Richard Herman is an immigration lawyer in Cleveland. He’s said for years that economics should drive more of immigration policy, steering high skilled immigrants towards cities like, “Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown. We’re dying out here. I mean, Cleveland used to be 950,000 people and now we’re down to 390,000.”

Herman says attracting skilled immigrants is not just good for the tax base. He says immigrants can help the industrial Midwest reclaim its old entrepreneurial spirit.

About the author

Kate Davidson is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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