Metro Detroit’s Global Talent Opportunity: Hire International Students

On April 3 the government started taking applications from employers for H1-B visas, setting off the mad annual rush again.  The H-1B is a visa in the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows U.S. employers to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. Employers use them to hire high-skilled workers to fill unmet talent needs, particularly in the area of STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math). Usually, the federal government will receive three times the number of applications for the 85,000 available visas and, thus, the window for applying (which by law could stay open until the close of the fiscal year September 30, 2019) will close five days after it opens and a lottery will be used to determine which U.S. companies are allowed to hire high-skilled talent to plug open positions, better compete, and expand their business.













Last week, the Pew Research Center released a seven-year analysis (2010-2016) of approved H-1B applications by metropolitan area and the Detroit metro area ranked 12th in the nation (with nearly 14,000 H-1B visas approved between 2010-2016, some of which were years where our regional economy really struggled) on the number of such visas approved. Metro Detroit ranked ahead of Seattle, San Francisco/Oakland (but well behind Silicon Valley which is in the San Jose metro) and Austin. Even without the additional 1,000 H-1B visas approved in the Ann Arbor metro area over this period (57th of the 70 metros tracked), Metro

Detroit dwarfed some other Midwest peers (Pittsburgh 6,600 H-1B visas; St. Louis 1,900; Minneapolis/St. Paul 1,900; Columbus 1,800; Cincinnati 1,500; and Indianapolis 600).

Global Detroit has long known and promoted that the region has strong high-skilled STEM talent demands and high use of the H-1B visa to help meet unmet talent needs. (In fact, the shortage of H-1B visas, and the fact that each year the federal government only grants on average one of every three applications, suggests that metro Detroit employers paid legal and other fees seeking close to 45,000 such visas over the seven-year period).

The Pew research analyzed the percentage of approved H-1B visas in each metro that went to advanced degree holders, as well as advanced degree holders whose degrees come from U.S. universities. While nearly half (47%) of Metro Detroit’s H-1B recipients possess a graduate degree, that rate was among lowest in the country (ranking 62nd out of the 70 metros studied). Ann Arbor H-1B recipients are slightly more likely (67% of total) to have a graduate degree, but that 17% difference ranks Ann Arbor 11th in the nation.

But the data provide a fairly startling statistic about the under-utilization of international student talent. Only 9% of the H-1B holders in Metro Detroit possessed an advanced degree from a U.S. institution. This ranked 67th out of the 70 metros studied. (Ann Arbor’s rate was 25%, good enough to rank 5th in the nation.)

Michigan has the 9th largest international student population of any state in the nation. Metro Detroit, our employment center, ranks 12th in the nation in use of H-1B visas to hire high-skilled international talent to fill unmet talent needs. Yet, the region is near dead-last in using H-1Bs to hire global talent that graduated from U.S. universities.

In 2011, Global Detroit helped launch the Global Talent Retention Initiative of Michigan (GTRI) to connect employers and unmet talent needs to the high-skilled, mostly STEM, talent graduating from the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, Eastern, UM-Dearborn, and Oakland universities. While we witnessed an over 80% growth in hiring of international students on academic training (Optional Practical Training or OPT) in the program’s first three years, we still face a regional corporate culture that isn’t utilizing this tremendous talent based. When you consider the fact that over 70% of the graduate students in electrical engineering at U.S. colleges and universities are international students or that over 60% of the graduate students in computer science are international, you realize that Metro Detroit’s corporate community is missing a golden opportunity.

Let’s hope that as our regional leaders tackle the talent agenda that looms as the biggest hurdle to Metro Detroit ‘s 21st century prosperity (remember HQ2?), they recognize that there is a river of international talent flowing right through our state. If you want to see how we put such a plan into action, attend the GTRI STEM and Startup Talent Job Fair this Thursday, April 5th from 11:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Henry Ford College. Details are here.



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