Immigrant Talent – Michigan’s Global Talent Advantage

Ask any economic developer or business leader in America to name their top imperative these days and, inevitably, they will rank talent as one of their top concerns. Talent strategies abound—placemaking, overhauling the public education system, attracting “boomerangers” (locally-born and raised talent who have fled to the coasts), improving retention, retraining displaced workers, but very few, if any, regions have a global talent strategy.

While the rapidly aging workforce presents many challenges to Michigan communities, these losses are tempered by immigration. Immigrants account for all of the population growth in Detroit, Southeast Michigan, and the state of Michigan over the last decade. In fact, since 2010 the city of Detroit’s immigrant population has grown by more than 13% while its U.S.-born population has declined by more than 5%. The greater Metro Detroit region lost 220,000 U.S.-born residents (5% loss) between 2000-2015, while the immigrant population grew by 80,000 during that time (24% growth rate), helping to stave off that loss. And since 2010, the state of Michigan lost 50,000 U.S.-born residents but celebrated a turnaround in its population change rate because of the influx of 64,000 immigrants.

Less understood, however, is the tremendous contribution that immigrants are making to our region’s high-skilled talent demands. In fact, according to the Migration Policy Institute, 63% of the adult immigrants to Michigan since 2010 have possessed at least a four-year degree. According to new data released by the Pew Research Center, Metro Detroit ranks 12th in the nation in the number of H-1B skilled immigrant visas and 47% of the nearly 14,000 H-1B immigrant workers approved to work in the region between 2010-2016 possess a graduate degree.

Metro Detroit also ranks 15th in the nation for the number of international students working after graduation on their optional practical training visa. This amounts to over 20,000 such graduates since 2004, 77% of whom possess a graduate degree.  These talented individuals are helping regional companies fill unmet talent needs, fueling the industries of today and tomorrow in technology, driving our manufacturing and engineering leadership, and powering the autonomous vehicle revolution, in addition to launching startup ventures at accelerated rates.

Over the past year, some sides in the public debate about immigration are attempting to sway the American public with misinformation about the value of immigrant contributions to the U.S. economy. Family reunification has been maligned as “chain migration,” while diversity lottery recipients have been called even worse. In reality, however, according to the Cato Institute, family reunification and diversity lottery migrants to the U.S. were 47% college-educated in 2015, compared to 29% of the U.S.-born population across the country and approximately 26% of the U.S.-born population living in Michigan.

Global Detroit is working with the Detroit Regional Chamber, MICHAuto, the Michigan Economic Center, and Fakhoury Global to develop a task force on Michigan’s Global Talent Advantage. The goals of the task force are to develop a data-driven strategic plan for how to better connect Southeast Michigan’s business community with available international talent that can help fill unmet talent needs, giving regional companies a competitive advantage. The final report will not only establish strategies to advance regional use of international talent, but will create an evaluation framework to monitor progress, and benchmark the region against other metropolitan areas.

Join us July 24, 2018 and learn how your metro stacks up in retaining and attracting international students.

Fully pursuing Michigan’s global talent advantage starts with understanding our current position. To that end, on July 24th, we will host a webinar with Neil Ruiz from the Pew Research Center who has released groundbreaking new research on the use of H-1B immigrant workers and international students by metro economies across the U.S. The webinar will provide information about Metro Detroit’s use of this important talent source and how we stack up to other metro regions.

To join the webinar on Tuesday, July 24 at noon, please pre-register here.


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