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Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder today is asking for 50,000 special federal immigration visas over the next five years, to attract foreign professionals to live and work in Detroit, which is in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings.
Gov. Snyder joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to explain his plan. It’s not clear yet whether the Obama administration will go along with it.
On his immigration initiatives
“This is part of a broader initiative to really make sure people know Michigan is welcome to immigrants. I think that’s very important. Couple other programs: we’re creating an office for new Americans at the state level, and we’re also applying for what’s called EB-5 status, which is this entrepreneurial opportunity about bringing jobs statewide, but also focusing on Detroit. Detroit’s specific initiative is one for highly-skilled immigrants, particularly those already going to our colleges and universities already, getting those advanced degrees in engineering, healthcare, life sciences, IT. Let’s keep them in our country. Currently, we tell them typically that they have to leave, and that’s just dumb. So Detroit’s a place that’s got great opportunity. It’s already coming back, but let’s jump-start that.”
On the “dumb” practice of not letting U.S.-educated immigrants stay
“When I talk about dumb, the dumbest of the dumb is the part we’re focused in on. Currently, we have thousands and thousands of foreign nationals coming to get advanced degrees in our universities. In Michigan, it’s about over 1,800 Ph.D. and master’s students a year in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – graduate, and many of these kids, when they’re done, we just tell them to get out. That’s just plain dumb, because shouldn’t we want to keep them here after we’ve given them a world-class education?”
On what he hopes granting visas will do for Detroit
“I’m just trying to do what’s right and fix what 60 years of mess has created. So if you look at this whole situation, this is not about adding new problems. This is finally saying, ‘Enough is enough, let’s solve this problem and get going.’ And that was the exciting part about today’s announcement on immigration, is let’s resolve the bankruptcy so we can all split all of our energy on growing Detroit, growing Michigan, and seeing the country come back in terms of a positive economic path.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
And I'm Sacha Pfeiffer, in for Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. Coming up, we'll have an update on day two of the Syrian peace talks in Switzerland after yesterday's rocky start.
HOBSON: But first, to a plan announced today by the governor or Michigan to revitalize Detroit by filling it with immigrants. He's asking Washington for 50,000 special immigration visas, so that immigrants with advanced degrees and special training - or at least a half-a-million dollars - can move to the U.S. as long as they live and work in Detroit.
Governor Snyder is with us now from Detroit. Governor, welcome.
GOVERNOR RICK SNYDER: Jeremy, it's great to be with you. It's very exciting, this new initiative.
HOBSON: Well, it's great to have you. And tell us more about how this would work exactly.
SNYDER: Yeah, to put it in context, this is part of a broader initiative to really make sure people know Michigan is welcome to immigrants. I think that's very important. So a couple other programs, we're creating an office for new Americans at the state level, and we're also applying for what's called EB-5 status, which is you have this entrepreneurial opportunity about bringing jobs statewide, but also focusing on Detroit.
But Detroit's specific initiative is one to say for highly skilled immigrants, particularly ones going to our colleges and universities already, that are getting those advanced degrees in engineering, health care, life sciences, IT, is - let's keep them in our country. Currently, we tell them, typically, they have to leave, and that's just dumb.
So Detroit's a place that's got great opportunity. It's already coming back, so let's jumpstart that. It doesn't require federal investment in terms of large dollars. So let's say: Can we do a focus program to do 50,000 visas over five years in Detroit that would generate a lot of economic activity, really keep a lot of brilliant students in our country? And the evidence shows that for each immigrant that falls in these categories, typically, there's about two-and-a-half jobs for Americans that go with that.
HOBSON: But do you have any sense that the federal government would say yes to this? Because I imagine there are a lot of cities in this country who would love to say yes, come to our city, work. We'd love the highly skilled immigrants to come work here.
SNYDER: Well, I think that there's a strong argument to say it's in the national interest. Again, Detroit is a city that's been, unfortunately, the largest bankruptcy in history in our country. And don't we want to jumpstart its recovery? So this is a program to try it, to see if it works. Maybe there are other opportunities for other places. But what better place to start in our country?
Detroit's already coming back economically, but couldn't we accelerate that? That helps with the recovery. And it's not asking the federal government for a bailout in any fashion, but hopefully administratively this could be done, and if not, legislatively.
HOBSON: How would you enforce the idea that people would need to stay and live and work in Detroit if they got one of these special visas?
SNYDER: Well, those are things that we'd have to work through in the details of the program, but there's also some precedent out there already. There's currently a federal program for health care workers that says if you work in certain underserved areas, you make a five-year commitment to work in those areas, and you can continue on the path to - you know, hopefully, ultimately citizenship, by being part of that program.
So there is some precedent for the concept of a five-year work requirement already in place.
HOBSON: Governor, this does bring up a bigger question, which is about immigration reform, generally. And you called, today, the country's immigration system dumb. Don't you think it would be better to just convince your fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives, frankly, to support the comprehensive immigration bill that has already been passed by the Senate, which does offer a lot of new visas for these highly skilled workers?
SNYDER: Well, what I'd say is I'm focused in on the State of Michigan. So I'm not going to get in the middle of whether the House or the Senate has the best approach other than to say this is a specific program that, by getting this program put in place, it can show how people can work together if it's requiring legislation. And isn't it better to show positive results? Because then people are going to be that much closer on the other issues.
So I think this would be a positive step forward. The other part of it is, is when I talk about dumb, the dumbest of the dumb is the part we're focused in on, is currently, we have thousands and thousands of foreign nationals coming to get advanced degrees from our universities. In Michigan, it's about over 1,800 PhD and master's students a year in STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - graduate, and many of these kids, when they're done, we tell them to get out.
That's just plain dumb, because shouldn't we want to keep them here after we've given them a world-class education? Because they're net job generators.
HOBSON: But on that point, do you think that the House should pass the Senate's immigration bill?
SNYDER: I appreciate the House is looking at immigration reform, and again, I think there can be benefits, and there's pros and cons to doing that in separate bills versus one omnibus bill. The main point is, something gets done to reform the system.
HOBSON: One more question, governor. If you look at what you've had to deal with with Detroit: you have made some friends, you have made some enemies, people who think that you're taking away their pensions. What have you learned in this process about how to strike a balance between getting the city back in the black and keeping the promises to the people who live there?
SNYDER: Well, the biggest thing is don't caught up in the politics. I'm not a career politician. I'm just trying to do what's right and resolve what 60 years of mess has created. So, if you look at this whole situation, this is not about adding new problems. This is finally saying enough is enough. Let's solve this problem and get going, and that was the exciting part about today's announcement on immigration, is let's resolve the bankruptcy so we can all put all of our energy on growing Detroit, growing Michigan, and seeing the country come back in terms of a positive economic tap.
HOBSON: Governor Rick Snyder, Republican of Michigan. Thanks so much for joining us.
SNYDER: Great to be with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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