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Immigration and its Role in the Future of Michigan and Our Region

by Kurt Metzger, Director

Immigration is a hot topic at the national, state and local levels.  While taking somewhat of a back seat in the recent Presidential campaign, there was still a great deal of discussion around undocumented workers, porous borders, pathways to citizenship and the Dream Act.  As Arizona has become the poster child for anti-immigrant sentiment, other states have been working to attract immigrants through a variety of efforts.  Michigan, while somewhat late to the party, has really moved the ball forward under Governor Snyder’s leadership.  Under his Global Michigan Initiative, he has charged the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to find new ways to encourage more highly educated immigrants and former Michiganders with advanced degrees to come to Michigan to work and live. Committees are working to address:

  • the attraction of needed talent by Michigan companies,
  • the retention of university graduates,
  • improved pathways for small business investment,
  • encouraging more welcoming communities for all,
  • licensing and credentialing highly skilled immigrants,
  • connecting immigrant business investors with local economic development and export strategies,
  • entrepreneurship,
  • maximization of the EB-5 investor visa program,
  • advocacy of the H1-B worker visa program,
  • effective information communication strategies.

With this in mind, I just wanted to take a few minutes of your time to document some of the new data coming out from two sources.  Together, these data are illustrating the state and local trends that we are seeing in the areas of immigration and foreign born students attending Michigan institutions of higher learning. In this article we look at immigration.  In the next we will report on foreign students at Michigan universities.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has just released their 2011 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.  The number of persons obtaining legal permanent resident status in Michigan, 18,347, was down slightly from 2010 but consistent with the last five years (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status in Michigan, 2001 - 2011

The trend was similar for the Detroit-Warren-Livonia MSA, the only Michigan metro covered by DHS.  Detroit has consistently been identified as the region of residence by about two-thirds of all new Michigan immigrants.

Figure 2. Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status in the Detroit Metropolitan Area, 2001 - 2011

While India had topped all other countries in supplying immigrants to southeast Michigan through 2010, the large flow of refugees from Iraq over the last three years vaulted it into first place by 2011.  During fiscal year 2011, Iraqi immigrants outnumbered those from India by almost 2,000. Metropolitan Detroit was the destination for 14.7 percent of the nation’s Iraqi immigrants and only 1.7 percent of immigrants from India.  Metro Detroit’s highest shares went to Lebanon (19.7%), Yemen (17.0%), Montenegro (14.7%) and Albania (13.6%).

Figure 3. Top Countries of Origin for Immigrants to Metro Detroit, 2003 - 2011

According to the 2011 American Community Survey, Michigan ranked 28th among states in the percent of its population who is foreign born at 6.1 percent.  It is clear that Governor Snyder wants to see this ranking improve.  While our 2011 ranking for total number of new immigrants was 14th among the states, we will have to increase our numbers well beyond 18,000 per year if we want our ranking on foreign born share to move up the charts.  The attraction and retention of foreign students is an avenue that needs to be pursued vigorously.  The next article will set that stage.

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