This week, we interview Steve Tobocman, Director of Global Detroit, about initiatives in Michigan, USA, to retain talented international students and their importance to the local economy.

What is being done to try and keep international graduates in Michigan?

“Michigan is the first state in the nation to launch a fully staffed international student retention programme. In 2010, the Global Detroit, study laid the foundation for a network of programmes designed to make the state more welcoming to international talent, and to put it at the forefront of states that integrated international talent, investment and opportunity into its economic future. The Michigan Global Talent Retention Initiative is a private, non-profit initiative borne out of the Global Detroit work. It includes 31 Michigan colleges and universities and seeks to link their 27,000 international students to employers and opportunities in Michigan through a series of on-campus conference, events, webinars, and job links. At the same time GTRI has signed up over 55 Global Opportunity employers in the state who agree to consider international talent in their hiring practices. The GO Employers post job opportunities that are directly fed to international students.

GTRI continues to work with Global Detroit and the State of Michigan, primarily through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which has provided funding, as well as inclusion in job fairs and other events.

Global Detroit and the State of Michigan also have worked with Upwardly Global to develop an online licensing guide for foreign-trained and credentialed professionals to help them navigate Michigan's licensing laws in 11 distinct professions. Michigan became the fourth state to develop such a guide.”

How are you trying to promote this positive message to international students globally?

“We promote this positive message to the international community here in Michigan and largely rely upon them to get the word out globally. Michigan universities, Michigan companies, international students, immigrant professionals and the vast international community in Michigan have deep networks around the world. By working to inform our local stakeholders about these exciting initiatives, we expect the world to know of these opportunities.”

Why is it important for Michigan to retain international students?

“International students represent the world's ‘best and brightest’. What we have found is that nearly 25 per cent of the high-tech firms in America are created by immigrant founders or co-founders. While Silicon Valley has the highest rate of immigrant start-up rates for immigrants (50 per cent of the high-tech firms in Silicon Valley have an immigrant founder or co-founder), Michigan competes incredibly well. It is the third highest-ranked state in the nation in this category after only California and New Jersey. A full 32.8 per cent of the high-tech firms started in Michigan have historically been started by immigrants. Given that Michigan is only 6 per cent foreign born – about half the national average – this suggests that Michigan international talent may be the most productive and innovative in the world.

One finding in the research of high-tech firms is that the average immigrant high-tech entrepreneur started their company 13 years after entering the U.S. The most common reason they came to America was to get an education. Michigan views international student retention as THE pathway to becoming the Silicon Valley of the Midwest.

We also know that Michigan's international students are highly concentrated in the STEM fields, with as much as 60 per cent concentrating in these areas. International students graduating from Michigan colleges and universities who are using the Optional Practical Training (OPT) portion of their student visa to work after graduation are choosing to work in Michigan at rates just below in-state students and three times the rate of out-of-state US students. All of these facts suggest that Michigan's economic future greatly benefits from international student retention.”

Are you hopeful that the US Congress will pass legislation making it easier for international STEM graduates to obtain green cards?

The economics behind a more liberal immigration policy for STEM graduates are undeniable. There is overwhelming support for these policies. There are other, more complicated political forces behind US immigration reform. It remains uncertain when more sensible reforms will be adopted, but usually when the economics are so overwhelming, public policy reform happens. We are optimistic this will be within the coming years.

Steve Tabocman contributed to a cover story on post-study work in the July issue of Study Travel Magazine

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