Michigan Proposes 50,000 New Immigrant Visas To Help Rebuild Detroit

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Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed a novel way to inject life and commerce into Detroit: Synder has urged the Feds to grant visas to immigrants looking to work and settle in Michigan. 50,000 of them, to be exact. Snyder's plan calls for the allocation of 50,000 immigrant visas over the next five years for highly skilled and exceptional immigrants, whose entrepreneurial skills and labor the governor hopes will help fuel a comeback of both city and state.

The city of Detroit has suffered the double blow of the decimation of its auto industry and a population exodus; there are now about 700,000 residents down from the peak population of 1.8 million in 1950.

Snyder's immigration proposal would grant 5,000 immigrants visas in its first year. They'd live and work in Detroit under the EB-2 immigration program, which allows federal authorities to grant 40,000 visas a year. The number of visas given out to immigrants living and working in Detroit would then increase to 10,000 over the next three years and eventually ending with 15,000 visas in the fifth year for advanced degree holders and those with exceptional abilities. Immigrants with skills in the auto, information technology, life-sciences and health-care industries, are particularly sought after, Snyder said.

"Let's send a message to the entire world: Detroit, Michigan, is open to the world," Snyder, a Republican, said at a news conference announcing the proposal Thursday.

Challenges lie ahead for Snyder as there is currently no visa program that targets specific cities, regions, or states. And as well as needing to be implemented by the federal government, the visa program would need to ease existing immigration regulations. Job numbers also dwindle: there are only 27 jobs for every 100 Detroit residents, according to a report from the Detroit Works Project.

But Snyder hopes the proposal will make Detroit and Michigan more attractive to employers, not just prospective employees.

"The point isn't just to say, 'Let's have a lot of jobs created in Detroit for immigrants,'" he said. "Let's step this up. Let's do something that could really be a jumpstart to the continuing comeback of Michigan and Detroit."

Snyder earlier this week asked the state for $350 million to help pay for Detroit's pension fund to stave off the sale of artwork from the Detroit Institute of Art, estimated to be worth around $2.5 billion. Detroit filed for municipal bankruptcy in 2013, the largest in the country's history, with $18 billion in debt owed.