Michigan was built on the backs of immigrants, reminded Gov. Rick Snyder when he gave his State of the State address in January. And going forward, Snyder believes immigrants will be integral to the state’s future — and to rebuilding Detroit, in particular.
That’s because by 2018, Michigan will need to fill 274,000 jobs in areas related to science, technology, engineering and math, and the state doesn’t have the talent to fill those jobs.
“He realizes that we don’t have that many students in that academic area who are residents of the state of Michigan, but we do have a significant amount of international students who are in that field,” said Bing Goei, who was recently selected to lead the newly created Michigan Office for New Americans.
Goei said Michigan has approximately 25,000 to 26,000 international students currently attending its colleges and universities. Of those students, approximately 6,000 are studying in STEM-related fields, and nearly 1,900 are enrolled in advanced degree programs.
“So the governor is saying, if we are going to need that type of talent, that type of individual with advanced degrees, why do we want to send them home? Why can’t we find a way to keep them here if that is what they want to do?” Goei said.
“We know that many of them would like to stay in the United States and many of them would like to stay in Michigan. Since we don’t have enough Michigan resident students, why not fill the gaps with these international students?”
Snyder has laid out a three-prong state plan to attract and retain immigrants, including the creation of the Michigan Office for New Americans. The office will be responsible for sending a message to the international community that Michigan is a welcoming state for immigrants.
“We need to focus on legal immigration and make sure people know Michigan is the most welcoming place, and I'm intent on moving forward with that,” Snyder said in his address last month.
“To take action on this front, I'm going to sign an executive order, creating the Michigan Office for New Americans to be a coordinating resource to say let's welcome these individuals to encourage entrepreneurship, to encourage those students that are getting those advanced degrees in engineering not to have to leave the country, but to stay and grow companies and employ Michiganders, to work on agricultural workers, to work on tourism workers, to work on a statewide EB-5 program, which is an entrepreneurship program, and to continue to say how can we be more innovative and creative, to say if someone has the opportunity to come to our country legally, let's hold our arms open and say, ‘Come to Michigan, this is the place to be.’"
Goei, a Grand Rapids business owner and resident, was selected as the new office’s executive director and said his role will involve facilitating the ongoing work already being done by several state departments and by other community groups focused on immigration.
Goei said his office would work on bringing all the stakeholders together to determine what is already being done, reduce any duplication of efforts, and determine how the organizations can work in collaboration with one another for the greatest overall results.
“So that, whatever limited resources we have, we maximize those limited resources to bring results because that is basically what the governor wants to see,” he explained.
“In the next few weeks we are going to find a way to consolidate all the information we have. We’ll be spending a lot of time meeting with stakeholders to bring them together.”
He said he would also be reaching out to the private sector to ask for their commitment to Snyder’s plan for the state and find out what they are able to contribute to help ensure the state’s immigration goals can be attained.
Goei said by connecting with individuals, identifying talent and encouraging people to enter STEM fields, the state will be able to fill those 274,000 jobs and ensure the state’s health in the future.
“There is an office called the Global Talent Retention Initiative that is part of the Global Detroit organization, and they have already begun to ID and gather data about all the international students that are currently studying in the state of Michigan,” Goei explained. “We know that maintaining a good database of international students and the talents they bring is critical to our success.”
In addition to the Michigan Office for New Americans, Snyder is also working to have Michigan designated an EB-5 Regional Center, which would allow the state to attract investments of at least $500,000 from international investors for Michigan projects, and he has asked the federal government to set aside 50,000 EB-2 visas over a five-year period for Detroit to help retain international advanced degree earners from the state’s colleges and universities.
Goei said Snyder’s plan remains within the existing legal immigration laws and does not require Congress’s movement on immigration reform.
“We wish that the Congress would work on this, but we are also saying it is not going to stop us because we are working within the framework of what is available to us, and I think that is what is going to keep us moving forward,” he said.
He did note that obtaining the 50,000 visas for Detroit might require action by Congress or an executive order by President Obama, and Snyder is busy trying to make that happen.