Filling the Talent Gap: GTRI Releases New International Student Data for Michigan

OPT Full CoverToday, the Michigan Global Talent Retention Initiative (GTRI), the nation’s first international student retention program, released its “Filling the Talent Gap” report—a 2016 update to first-of-its-kind analysis of OPT data released in 2013. The release was announced at a Global Detroit press conference that included MICHauto, an economic development initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber designed to retain and grow Michigan’s auto industry, as well as local employers.

The press conference and release were part of a regional day of action for the WE Global Network, in which several local immigrant economic development organizations across the Rust Belt joined to communicate about the enormous potential that international students represent for America’s economic future. The events were timed to occur approximately two months after college graduations when hundreds of thousands of talented international students will return to their home countries—U.S. degree in hand—as current U.S. immigration laws limit their ability to pursue long-term employment in the U.S. This represents an economic loss that is likely in the billions.


There is a tremendous talent gap across the U.S. and in Michigan, especially in STEM jobs. According to a 2015 estimate from the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), a publicly-traded corporate advisory specialist, factoring in parameters such as growth and an aging workforce, there will be a gap a STEM employment supply shortfall of 1.3 million by 2020.

International students represent a critical opportunity fill that gap. Nationally, 40-70% of all the graduate students in the U.S. studying in STEM-related fields are international students (including 70.3% of electrical engineering, 63.2% of computer science). In Michigan, more than 60 percent of the STEM PhD graduates in recent years are international students, including 60.6 percent of engineering PhDs awarded between 2006-2010.


The study documents tremendous growth in Michigan companies’ hiring of international students from Michigan colleges and universities, including:

  • Over 80% growth in the number of students hired by Michigan companies while on OPT in the past four years from these seven GTRI universities;
  • 68% of the students working under OPT from these schools received degrees in STEM disciplines;
  • 83% of the students working under OPT from these schools received a graduate (masters or PhD) degree;
  • Southeast Michigan is benefitting far more from this talent than other parts of the state. We estimate that more than three-quarters (75 percent) of the OPTs from our seven target universities working in Michigan are working in the four county (Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties) target area that defines the Global Detroit footprint; and
  • In a typical semester, more than 225 Michigan companies are utilizing recently graduated Michigan international student talent.

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GTRI is working to connect international students from these schools to employers with unmet talent needs. Like many international students, Arjun Venugopal, a graduate student at Wayne State University completing his Masters in Manufacturing Engineering, was experience what most of us would consider a frustrating employment search until he connected with GTRI.

DSC_0612“I had secured interviews with several companies,” Arjun recounts. “The day before my interviews they cancelled. I was told they were not looking to hire international students, and they do not do visa sponsorships. It was very disappointing.” Because of these experiences, Arjun was losing hope.

This past month, however, Arjun celebrated landing his first job in the U.S., securing a full­time paid internship with Process Control & Instrument (PCI), a Detroit-based system integration and industrial automation engineering firm looking for high-skilled talent. Arjun credits his good fortune to meeting Gracie Xavier, the Director of GTRI.

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Filling the Talent Gap: Mobilizing Michigan’s International Student Potential

JDA3_IntlStuds_MI Gov Snyder Quote

Global Detroit would like to thank the New Economy Initiative, the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program, Fakhoury Law Group, OpTech, and Fragomen for their generous support. We look forward to building upon this early track record of success.

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