Michigan Governor Seeks 50,000 EB2 Visas for Detroit

Even before Detroit declared bankruptcy last July, it had long been a poster child for urban decay and the ravages of deindustrialization. Each new crisis further reinforced the perception – even in Detroit’s own suburbs – that the city was in free-fall, and possibly beyond saving.

Fortunately – to paraphrase that famous line attributed to Mark Twain – the rumors of Detroit’s imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated, not just because urban hipsters are moving back into the city, but because political leaders are embracing Detroit’s challenges as an invitation to think creatively. Most appealing, from our perspective, is that many of these leaders now understand that immigration could play a major role in the city’s revitalization.

For example, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) recently proposed a special EB5 program that would attract foreign entrepreneurs to areas of greatest economic need – like Detroit – by dramatically lowering the foreign investment threshold from $500,000 to $50,000. [See Detroit’s Bankruptcy: Rand Paul’s $50,000 Idea, MurthyBlog, 20.Dec.2013.]

Not to be outdone, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI) announced a plan of his own, to seek 50,000 work visas – 10,000 a year, over the next five years – to attract “legal immigrants who have advanced degrees or show exceptional ability in certain fields,” according to the Associated Press. [See Michigan Seeks Visas to Lure Immigrants to Detroit, by Jeff Karoub and David Eggert, 23.Jan.2014, Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Associated Press).] As the AP reports, “Under the governor’s unique proposal, one-quarter of the nation’s 40,000 annual EB2 visas would be designated for such immigrants willing to live and work for five years in Detroit.”

Ingenious as it is, the idea is not entirely new; for years, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has run a special exchange visitor program that allows foreign physicians to receive J-1 visas if they are willing to practice in medically underserved areas for three years. [See Global Programs & Initiatives: Exchange Visitor Program, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.]    A related program, Conrad 30, even sets aside 30 home-residence waiver slots, per state, for J-1 physicians who agree to practice in medically underserved areas. [See Religious Worker, E-Verify, and Conrad 30 Programs Extended, MurthyDotCom, 28.Oct.2012.]

What’s truly unprecedented is the scale of the Detroit proposal, and its limitation to a small geographic area – which may raise concerns about the equitable distribution of EB2 visas – but given the scale of the city’s problems, it’s certainly an idea worth considering.

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