Scott F. Cooper: How immigration reform is a key to Michigan’s economy

Scott F. Cooper: How immigration reform is a key to Michigan’s economy

Michigan’s international students and graduates have a mammoth impact on the state’s new economy and the crucial endeavors needed to keep those young, talented adults here.

High-tech fields are changing the face of Michigan’s employment landscape. Michigan is third nationwide in creating new jobs in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM), behind only California and New Jersey. Immigrants living in Michigan are creating those jobs. International students, more than domestic ones, are majoring in the fields required to fill the positions that build a stronger state economy and develop a more internationally competitive region.

While foreign-born individuals made up only 5.3% of the state population in 2000, these individuals created 39% of the high-tech startup companies here between 1995-2005. The 25,500 international students who annually attend school in Michigan pour at least $750 million into the economy, according to theGlobal Talent Retention Initiative Data study by Global Detroit.

Michigan must further encourage and welcome its international students to call this state their home upon graduation. Doing so is a win-win situation and creates greener economic pastures for both U.S.-born and immigrant Michiganders.

The task is not simple. While many international students between the ages of 25-34 want to stay in metro Detroit after graduation, other factors lure them away. Michigan ranks near dead last nationwide in its ability to attract that age group here. To change that and maximize STEM economic opportunities, Michigan’s University Research Corridor, with help from Global Detroit, spearheaded and supports an international student retention program that is the first in the nation. The program offers education on immigration regulations and builds cross-cultural bridges between employers and students.

International students who use their student visas to work in the U.S. after graduation are nearly as likely as Michigan-born students to stay, Global Detroit found.

International students employed in Michigan do not “take” jobs away from anyone; they help create more. By 2018, Michigan will need to fill 274,000 STEM field jobs, and there aren’t enough local advanced degree-holders to fill them. Retaining talented international students will help Michigan continue to diversify its employment industries beyond auto manufacturing, tourism and agriculture.

But we can’t have a national policy of selecting highly skilled foreign national workers to support our economy by selecting them randomly once a year. Michigan employers — as well as organizations such as the Detroit Regional Chamber, Automation Alley, Ann Arbor Spark and others — need to challenge members of Congress, especially in the House, to complete the work of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The governor is clearly on board. Senate Bill 744, a tough compromise involving the major stakeholders in the immigration debate, will permit international students to remain here to support and create businesses and to improve Michigan’s economy.

A national immigration system that promotes opportunity, entrepreneurship and retention of global talent will accelerate innovation and job creation.

Scott F. Cooperis a partner and managing attorney of the Michigan offices Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, which specializes in immigration law.

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