Michigan’s Republican governor: We need more immigration

(Flickr/James Marvin Phelps)

Immigrants are the key to revitalizing Michigan’s economy, said Gov. Rick Snyder (R) at a New Media Conference at Wayne State University this week. The Associated Press reports:

“One of the keys that made us successful in the past is going to again be the key to our future, and that’s… immigration,” Snyder told hundreds of people attending the New Michigan Media conference. He noted that the venture capital companies he headed before he became governor invested in several businesses headed by foreign graduates who created Michigan jobs.


The Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. are working together through the Snyder administration’s Global Michigan Initiative to find ways to team graduating immigrants with companies that might be able to help them gain a work visa by saying they’ll hire them.

“To translate that [student visa] into a work visa or another situation, they really need to be matched with some commercial opportunity,” Snyder said. “”How do we find students that have those great innovative ideas and match them up with existing businesses or other startup people in Michigan to say, `Hey, create a company together’?”

Asked after his speech whether he supported Arizona-style enforcement bills proposed in the Michigan Legislature, Snyder said he opposed them. “[Those proposals] are creating divisiveness.”

With his support for more immigration, and opposition to restrictive enforcement laws, Snyder is putting himself at odds with a majority of his party on a polarizing issue (Gallup recently found 49 percent of Republicans favored decreasing, rather than maintaining or increasing, immigration levels). However, he has a number of significant GOP allies, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who participated in the event via video conference. Bloomberg has spoken publicly about how immigrants could help Detroit regain the population that it has rapidly lost in the past decade (26 percent according to the 2010 Census).

The Detroit metropolitan area also has one of the most depressed housing markets in the country: The median house sale price was $65,000 in June, down 13 percent from what the median price was a year ago, according to The Detroit News. In a well-cited 2007 paper (PDF), economist Albert Saiz from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School showed that a 10-percent increase in immigration on average leads to a 1 percent increase in housing prices in U.S. cities.

That’s one reason why Gov. Snyder might want more immigration, Saiz told The American Independent, but that doesn’t mean that giving more immigrants the option of moving to Michigan will solve the state’s underlying problems. “The problem is the same forces that are causing people to leave would also cause the immigrants to leave. Immigrants are very mobile, they are much more mobile than natives,” he said.

Saiz says that without significantly improving Michigan’s lifestyle factors, such as the school system, high-skilled immigrants won’t stay for long. And low-skilled immigrants would only cause a small bump in housing prices without the complement of more high-skilled workers. While attracting immigrants to Detroit would be beneficial, the problem of how to attract them still remains. Saiz likens the problem to boiling an egg: “If you boil water, the egg is going to be boiled, but the problem is how to boil the water.”

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