Where lawmakers in the United Kingdom recently made it more difficult for workers on temporary visas to remain in the UK, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has embarked on the opposite.
Gov. Snyder has announced the Global Michigan initiative, which aims to attract foreign-born entrepreneurs to the state in hopes of starting businesses.
Officially, the GMI is “An initiative to promote Michigan’s economic prosperity by welcoming the best and the brightest from around the world and to include everyone in reinventing Michigan!”
Actually it’s a strategy to boost production in Detroit, long a symbol of American ingenuity and productivity.
“The evidence is clear that advanced college degree immigrants make a tremendous difference in creating a positive economic activity environment that benefits us all,” Snyder said in his State of the State address last January.
Granted: from the standpoint of a global economy, the idea makes some sense. You take the best and the brightest from the world, not just from your own nation, and you build your businesses accordingly. And over the nation’s entire history, a good portion of successful American businesses were founded by immigrants.
Perhaps that is why Snyder has formed the collaboration of the Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) and the Department of Civil Rights to develop the initiative.
But in the case of the Global Michigan Initiative, the translation of this overall vision includes a certain amount of… I can only describe it as an admission of defeat.
In the Washington Times, Amy Cell, senior vice president of talent enhancement for the MEDC, was paraphrased putting the entire idea in a nutshell:
“Policy analysts acknowledge that some displaced Michigan workers may feel threatened by an influx of well-educated foreign workers, but they should know that with business development comes new work in manufacturing, distribution and call centers for secretaries, janitors and laborers.”
My question is: what happened to American-born talent? Who has deemed the current U.S. workforce so uneducated and unfit to lead that states must look overseas for some kind of rescue?
And who is to say that today’s “janitor and laborer” cannot be tomorrow’s business entrepreneur?
Somehow, government as talent recruiter strikes me as inappropriate at best.
You hear a lot of complaining about how American schools are letting the kids down, how students are encouraged to play video games while other nations are training the next great generation of engineers.
However, in the same breath you hear how America has the best universities in the world. (see: University of Michigan, #15).
It’s worth noting that according to a Global Detroit study conducted by former Michigan state Rep. Steve Tobocman, 44 percent of all engineering master’s degrees and 62 percent of engineering Ph.D.s in Michigan in 2009 were awarded to foreign-born students.
Yet a large portion of the GMI’s outreach efforts must include lobbying the federal government to actually ease its restrictions on H1-B visas. The idea is that foreign-born talent is coming to America, getting trained and then going back home.
The more I think about this, the more I think the UK has it right. The Home Office is even requiring an English proficiency test (YES, thank you very much – if I ever moved to France or Russia or Italy, you can bet I’d learn the language first).
It all boils down to one thing. Gov. Snyder is affiliated with the GOP, so I can assume he’d relate to a statement often credited to Ronald Reagan:
“A nation that cannot control its borders cannot control its destiny.”