Detroit Regional Chamber > Education & Talent > ‘Growing Awareness’ for Employees to Tap Into Immigrant Populations

‘Growing Awareness’ for Employees to Tap Into Immigrant Populations

October 14, 2022

On Thursday, Oct. 13, Global Detroit, a regional economic development organization focused on immigrant-inclusive policies in metro Detroit, released their new research report titled “International Student Talent in the Michigan Workforce” during a news conference held at the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Crain’s Detroit Business
Oct. 14, 2022
Nick Manes

Over a 13-year period, ending in 2016, Michigan companies bolstered their headcount with international student workers by a growth rate of more than 300 percent.

That’s among the findings included in a new research report titled “International Student Talent in the Michigan Workforce,” released Thursday by Global Detroit, a regional economic development organization focused on immigrant-inclusive policies in the metro Detroit area.

The report stems from data obtained by the Pew Research Center tracking international students working in the U.S. under their student visas after graduation. Using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Pew assembled the records of over one million international students working in the U.S. from 2004-2016.

During those years, Michigan companies added some 40,000 international students to their employee ranks, representing growth of 330 percent and landing the state at number 10 among all states in terms of number of international students working under their student visas during the years studied.

In 2016, Michigan companies hired about 9,000 international students, according to the report.

Additionally, the report found that international students from Michigan colleges and universities were nearly as likely to remain in Michigan for their employment as in-state students as some 60 percent of the students studying at Michigan schools who worked on their student visa stayed in-state.

Backers of the research say the data shows that employers and policymakers must further embrace immigrant populations in a bid to ease the increasing demand for a skilled workforce.

“What you find is that international talent tends to be very loyal. They’re very, very loyal,” said Ronia Kruse, the co-founder and CEO of OpTech LLC and OpTech Solutions, a Troy-based recruiting and staffing firm. “They’re very hardworking. They represent over 50 percent of the STEM degrees that come out of universities. And so we really can’t ignore this population.”

Kruse, speaking Thursday during a news conference in downtown Detroit unveiling the report is also a co-founder of Digital Lakes, a recently re-booted nonprofit focused on bringing more skilled workers to Michigan’s technology sector.

While the data obtained and supplied for the report by Pew only goes up to 2016, Global Detroit Executive Director Steve Tobocman said the group continues to work on getting more updated data.

Asked by Crain’s whether he believes the overall trajectory may have changed over the last six years, Tobocman said he believes there may be a “slight drop” during the years that followed, which he attributed both to the pandemic and some of the rhetoric by former President Donald Trump, who was often hostile toward immigrants.

Still, there “is a growing awareness” for employers around tapping into immigrant populations to meet their talent needs, Tobocman said.

To that end, included in the state’s 2023 fiscal year budget was a $5 million appropriation for the Global Talent Retention Initiative (GTRI), a conglomeration of universities and private sector groups that aims to help Michigan companies by hosting job fairs and employer legal workshops for those seeking to bring in more international students into their workforce.

Broadly, working to grow the overall “talent pie” in Michigan has been a priority of the administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, said Lieutenant Gov. Garlin Gilchrist during the news conference on Thursday.

“And we also recognize that there is a complementary role to play for people who have come to Michigan from different parts of the country or different parts of the world for different reasons,” Gilchrist said. “We want them to know that this economy is inclusive. Our community and our culture is inclusive.”