Detroit’s population peaked at 1.86 million residents in 1950 and has been on the decline ever since. Today, Detroit’s population is about the same as it was in 1910, before the auto boom began. Consequently, the city lacks the necessary tax base to cover its vital services and the highly trained workers needed to fill positions in high-technology industries. Gov. Rick Snyder has announced a plan to bolster the population by issuing 50,000 visas over a span of five years to highly educated immigrants in an ambitious effort to boost the city’s population and economic growth. While the plan would likely aid economic recovery by stabilizing the housing market, providing human resources to companies and broadening the tax base, the effort could effectively marginalize the current population. Aiding Detroit’s recovering economy is a must for the state, but Snyder must be sure not to alienate long-term residents in the process.
The proposed visas would be issued to approved workers in increasing numbers over a five-year period, beginning with 5,000 the first year and ending with 15,000 in the final year. Snyder’s plan would use five-year EB-2 visas which are intended for immigrants with a master’s degree or superior, and “exceptional ability” in the arts or in a professional field. Snyder’s plan mandates that they live and work in the city of Detroit. However, the five-year validity of the EB-2 visa highlights the temporary nature of this solution, and the question remains about what may happen to the immigrants after their visas have expired. Snyder should not bring in foreign talent without adequately preparing for their arrival in the city. Adequate housing must be built, a support system must be implemented and the city must prepare for this sizable influx of new, culturally diverse residents. Additionally, a program should be created within the framework of current immigration law to help interested and qualified workers obtain citizenship after their visas expire. Doing so will help permanently establish communities in the city, providing a long-term objective for this temporary fix and preventing these new employees from being treated like transient workers.
Furthermore, the plan will necessarily create communities of highly paid professionals within a city that is already dealing with class disparities, crippling poverty and unemployment. The city needs these kinds of workers, but programs should also be created to train and equip the existing population with skills that employers are seeking. Detroit’s unemployment rate sits at nearly 18 percent, and the city’s population is being excluded from the increasing number of high-technology fields. If the city’s unemployment is not first addressed, this plan will simply exacerbate the income inequality that already exists. There must be advanced job training available to these residents in order to make it possible for them to join the tech-age workforce that Snyder’s plan is attempting to bring to Detroit.
The economy is changing, and Detroit must change to keep up with today’s fast-paced information economy. Snyder’s plan to bring immigrants into the city will aid in growing the population and tax base of Detroit, but any plan to bolster the economy must take into account the current residents. Increased vocational training and job assistance must be provided for unemployed or underemployed Detroiters, preparing them for fulfilling careers in the new-age economy Snyder is attempting to grow within the city.