Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is proposing to recruit 50,000 immigrants to
revitalize Detroit. It’s a long shot, but it could tweak the dialogue
around immigration reform.
By Noelle Swan
Gov. Rick Snyder (R) of Michigan put forward a new and controversial
plan Thursday to award 50,000 visas over five years to immigrants
willing to settle and work in Detroit as part of his efforts to
revitalize the bankrupt city.
The move would require a federal action to increase in the
employment-based visas for immigrants, as well as a drastic change in
the way that such visas are awarded. As a result, immigration experts
are skeptical that Governor Snyder’s plan will become a
reality. Yet some remain intrigued by the long-shot proposal’s
potential to change the national conversation around immigration
Snyder is, after all, a Republican, which puts an unusual twist on the
usual national debate about immigration. In recent years, much of the
discussion — primarily among Republicans — has revolved around the
societal costs of immigration and the strain that immigrants place on
services and unemployment levels. But Snyder’s request highlights that
immigrants can also be job creators, says Rick Su, a law professor at
the State University of New York Buffalo Law School.
Immigrants tend to be twice as likely to start a business as
non-immigrants, the Partnership for a New American Economy found. In
2011, immigrants started more than a quarter of new businesses in the
country. In 2007, Immigrants employed 4.7 million people and generated
more than $776 billion in revenue, according to the Fiscal Policy
This idea that immigration can actually be beneficial for business and
the economy has potential to bridge the sharp political divide that
has so far dominated the current conversation, says Ann Lin, a
professor of public policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“This has a real chance to make both Republicans and Democrats think a
little differently about the immigration issue.”
Snyder’s request may seem contrary to the stricter immigration laws
advocated by many in his party. But the idea could appeal to advocates
wishing to strengthen state rights.
In order to gain any real momentum, Snyder will likely have to look
for allies outside Michigan and come up with a more comprehensive
proposal, Professor Lin says.
“You want to think very carefully about what the preconditions of
immigration are,” Lin says. “You don’t want to say, ‘Let’s bring in
smart people and hope that some of them will create businesses.'”
Canada has allowed individual states and provinces to admit immigrants
into their region since the 1990s. While many Canadians have hailed
the program as a success, there have been challenges. The Canadian
government recently had to retool the requirements for business and
entrepreneurial visas because they found that a lot of people claiming
them were not actually starting businesses.
Another problem has been that some recipients of locally-issued visas
have left the province that admitted them, says Susan Martin, a
professor of international migration and director of the Institute for
the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University in
That same issue could be a major impediment for Snyder’s plan. Even if
Washington were to grant additional visas, there is no legal mechanism
in place to require recipients to remain in Detroit, Professor Su
says. Snyder said it was unclear whether President Obama could act
alone or whether Congress would have to be come involved, according to
the Associated Press.