Oct 21, 2022 - News

FOIA Friday: The growing international grad workforce

Data: Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement data received August 2017 through a Freedom of Information Act request; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement data received August 2017 through a Freedom of Information Act request; Chart: Axios Visuals

In our latest public records deep dive, we're looking at how international students — a growing piece of Michigan's workforce — can help narrow the state's talent gap.

Why it matters: Knowing more about international graduates of Michigan universities is crucial for informing policymakers and employers in order to help keep them from leaving the state, according to research released by Global Detroit.

  • These grads fill open jobs and contribute innovation, among other benefits.

What's happening: Global Detroit, an organization focused on immigrant inclusion and economic growth, analyzed state-level data provided by the Pew Research Center.

  • Pew requested federal data through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), obtaining records of more than a million international students working in the U.S.
  • Global Detroit's analysis focuses on a specific international student visa program, Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows graduates to stay working here for one to three years and puts the visa responsibility on the universities, not the employers.

By the numbers: The number of international students hired by Michigan companies jumped 335% over the data period, 2004-2016. Nearly 43,600 with 195 countries of origin were hired by nearly 16,500 employers.

  • Sixty percent of OPT students coming from Michigan colleges stayed in-state.

What they're saying: "While we look at (high-skill talent), international students are a strong source of fuel to power that economy and it's one that's been under the radar and rapidly growing," Steve Tobocman, Global Detroit executive director, tells Axios.

  • "I think awareness and cultural bias are the biggest barriers to seeing (hiring international students) expand."

What they're saying: "We bring a different perspective not only to the work we do but what we do in general," Berenice López, a 2020 graduate and OPT participant who became a Ford contractor, said in the report. "We have a different way of thinking."

  • "It's good to have a different point of view. It makes the culture at work richer."
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