Snyder wants to lure well-educated immigrants

February 6, 2011
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LANSING — Michigan may have more well-educated immigrants in a couple of years.

Gov. Rick Snyder said the state should encourage immigrants with advanced college degrees to work and live in Michigan.

Political controversies about immigrants last year raised fears among legal immigrants that the business climate would be unfavorable for them. But this year the situation may be different.

Immigrants with advanced degrees, Snyder said in his State of the State address, “make a tremendous difference in creating a positive economic activity environment,” but he revealed no details about how Michigan might attract more of them.

Susan Reed, an attorney from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center in Kalamazoo, said legislation that targets immigrants for enforcement creates an unwelcoming atmosphere. “Unfortunately, people’s discussion about immigration problems is always negative. There is little significant legislation about encouraging immigrants to come to Michigan. I hope Gov. Snyder will take a new approach to it,” she said.

Reed said options to attract well-educated immigrants include preventing racial profiling, enhancing community policing efforts to decrease mistrust between immigrant and law enforcement, and expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“To immigrants who lack or cannot afford insurance coverage, this is a welcoming policy,” Reed said.

A Global Detroit Study by David Egner, the executive director of New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan in Detroit, cites the advantages of attracting more well-educated immigrants.

The study found that immigrants predominate in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics — fields that are critical to technologies, innovation and business that power “new economy” jobs and firms.

The U.S. Small Business Administration reported that immigrants started 15.8 percent of all Michigan businesses launched between 1996 and 2007.

Professor Wei-Chiao Huang, an expert on labor economics at Western Michigan University, said, “The well-educated immigrant will bring the state new economic recovery.”

Huang said many immigrants with master’s degrees or Ph.D.s lead in engineering and science fields. “These highly skilled immigrants certainly will help boost the economy. We need more additional highly skilled immigrants to come and live here,” Huang said.

If Snyder wants to attract more well-educated immigrants, the easiest way is to keep talented international students who study in Michigan, Huang said.

Wenbo Qiao, a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University, said he “really likes to live in Michigan” because of the natural landscape and low cost of living. “But Michigan doesn’t like me. There is no suitable job position here,” Qiao said.

He said if he has a chance to open his own business in Michigan, he would hire local residents, because they could help the company better communicate with customers and the media.

Qiao said that two things would encourage well-educated students to stay: cutting business taxes and shortening the time it takes to process applications for permanent residency.

“If the new governor provides more work opportunities to me, I will stay here,” he said.

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