Detroit visas won’t save sinking city, critics say


WORLD VIEW: Having lost more than 1 million people, Detroit has plenty of abandoned buildings. Michigan officials want to fill the space with immigrants.

By Kenric Ward |

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Michigan officials want to repopulate Detroit with an aggressive immigration program — a move critics call misguided and unworkable.

“This ranks right up there with Ford’s expectation that the Edsel was going to be a big seller,” said Bob Dane, communications director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has opened an Office for New Americans, with the goal of luring foreign workers and overseas capital to pump up the Motor City. The once-bustling metropolis of 1.85 million people has shriveled to 701,000, and falling.

Detroit’s unemployment rate officially is 8.3 percent, but tops 15 percent when accounting for residents who have quit looking for work. The city perennially ranks as one of the worst job markets in the country.

“For decades, Detroit has watched its manufacturing jobs exported overseas while suffering fiscal mischief at the hands of corrupt city officials,” said Dane, who grew up in the city now going through bankruptcy.

“Now Gov. Snyder wants to compound that pain by proposing to import 50,000 foreign workers to flood a sinking labor market.”

Bing Goel, head of the Office for New Americans, said Michigan wants immigrants to make a commitment to live in Detroit for five years.

C’MON DOWN: Gov. Rick Snyder is asking the federal government to earmark 50,000 immigrant visas specifically for Detroit.

In an unprecedented request, Snyder has asked the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to allocate 50,000 “EB-2” visas for Detroit during the next five years.

EB-2s, which are not allocated geographically, are available to immigrants with advanced degrees or who show exceptional ability in certain fields. USCIS grants 40,000 EB-2 visas per year, nationwide.

USCIS has not responded to the Republican governor’s request.

“These immigrants may start a business of their own,” suggested Goel, a florist whose Indonesian family migrated to Grand Rapids in 1960.

While Snyder’s gambit has bipartisan support at the Legislature, state Libertarian Party Secretary Jim Fulner harbors doubts.

“The attempt should be applauded (but) the means to get there should not be,” Fulner told

“The Office for New Americans is not funded by private individuals and companies to voluntarily encourage skilled laborers to move to Michigan, but by stolen taxpayer funds taken from Michiganders who, right or wrong, fear a wave of immigration.”

Fulner also assailed Michigan’s establishment of a state-run “EB-5” regional center to attract foreign investment to the restaurant sector.

Though the state’s EB-5 application won USCIS approval within six weeks, an unusually quick turnaround for the federal agency, Fulner was unimpressed.

“Snyder could better use his bully pulpit to encourage Michiganders to support one or more of the privately run EB-5 centers” already operating in the state, Fulner said.

FAIR’s Dane was more critical.

“Detroit needs a helping hand, not from Snyder’s Office for New Americans and not from pie-in-the-sky promises of economic growth by foreign investors, but from a governor committed to helping existing Americans willing to work and who are anxious to rebuild the city on their own terms, “Dane said.

“Gov. Snyder’s utopian dream to transform Detroit into an upper Midwest Silicon Valley with tens of thousands of high-tech foreign workers leaves the unemployed autoworker scratching his head wondering, ‘What’s in it for me?’

“Repopulating Detroit just for the sake of adding people without addressing the plight of those already there is ill-conceived public policy,” Dane said.

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward

Category: economic development, Immigration, Michigan, National, News, Bankruptcy, detroit, EB-2, EB-5, Federation for American Immigration Reform, Libertarian Party, Michigan Office for New Americans, population, Rick Snyder, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Unemployment