Gratiot near Mack in Detroit.jpgAs economic opportunities appear to diminish in the United States, global mobility management has become the hottest trend in migration. 

In the globalized world, executives, entrepreneurs, investors and talented workers are voting with their feet and moving to places where economic opportunities entice.  (For background, see my recently published article, “Global Mobility Management – A Primer for Chief Legal Officers and HR Executives,” co-authored with in-house counsel, Mareza Estevez of Cognizant Technology Solutions, and Peter Schiron, Jr., of Deloitte LLP, available in British and American English.)

One way I follow trends in global mobility is by using Twitter and other social media, gushing fonts of useful information often hidden within torrents of dreck and dross.   (An enlightened writer, Maria Popova, who maintains a website called Brain Pickings, considers the thoughtful filtering of valuable Twitter content as a new form of creative authorship, dubbed “content curation.”  I riffed recently with Ted Chiappari on Popova’s theme in a curation of our own, a découpage depicting developments in U.S. employer sanctions entitled “Informational Abundance and Scarcity in Immigration Worksite Enforcement.”)

Developments in global mobility are seen, for example, in a recent social media thread spotlighting a new amendment, effective shortly, to the immigration laws of the United Arab Emirates.  The UAE will soon allow investors of at least Dh 1 Million (a bit more than U.S.$ 272,000) in real estate to receive residence visas for thee years instead of the current six-month period of stay. The visa change “is expected to help revive the depressed real estate market, which is looking at a huge over-supply in the coming months,” according to a local report.  Already, Dubai shares and UAE property values have increased.  The Emirates’ real estate investor category will reportedly make life easier for holders of this visa, “such as [when] applying for a local driving [license], [and] personal loans and getting admission to schools.”

The new UAE investor visa came to mind as I reflected on two recent business and family trips to Detroit, my hometown, where  I spent my fondly remembered childhood on the gritty streets of its inner city (near Gratiot and Mack Avenues).  Sadly to me, however, my boyhood home of the 1950s-1960s, and virtually all of the structures on the block where I lived (save for a since-erected CVS pharmacy), were long ago demolished.  A city with a population that peaked at about 1.8 million in the 1950s, Detroit last year numbered just over 700,000 inhabitants, and contributed to Michigan’s sad distinction as the only state to have “suffered an overall population decline between 2000 and 2010.” 

Some in the city are making plans to relocate residents and to group homes together, that is, to “shrink,” as the New York Times phrased it in an April, 2011 story.  Others are trying new ways to put the economic mojo back in Motown, as the Wall St. Journal and Forbes reported recently. As a letter writer commenting on the Wall St. Journal piece observed, however:

A city’s real strength is its people:  entrepreneurs who can imagine, hard workers who can produce, creative types who can inspire and families who can build. People came to Detroit for one reason: jobs. People will return for the same reason. Figure out how to create these jobs, and the rest will follow.  

Michigan’s Republican governor will soon make a major speech in Detroit on “Immigration and Michigan.” I have no idea what he will say. Presumably, it will be on “Global Michigan,” an effort by the “Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to find new ways to encourage more highly educated immigrants . . . to come to Michigan to work and live,” beyond merely the “cool factor” luring the adventurous, young and artsy to Detroit.   

If I were ghostwriting his talk, I’d suggest that he urge the Obama Administration to amend existing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services regulations to establish a new category of employment authorization (the power to grant work permits inherently rests within the Executive Branch, and numerous administrations before this incumbent have long exercised that authority). 

This initiative could be modeled after the much heralded U.S. Department of Education program, Race to the Top, and dubbed the “Race to the EAD” (Employment Authorization Document).  It would allow states like Michigan to submit economic revitalization proposals under which federally approved projects would allow promising and worthy nonimmigrant and conditional immigrant investors and entrepreneurs as well as state-recommended recipients of deferred action — after careful screening for security and criminal risks — to obtain a renewable EAD in reasonable increments (say, two or three years at a time). 

The chosen Race to the EAD projects would be periodically reviewed by government auditors in order to determine the extent to which EAD holders as a group have meaningfully followed through on their commitments and thereby contributed to economic growth, thus entitling them to receive EAD renewals. 

A state whose proposal is federally approved in the Race to the EAD program, as I envision it, would likely be very attractive to foreign citizens because it would not only allow for work permits based on investments and entrepreneurial activities but make life easier for the EAD holder when “applying for a local driving [license], personal loans and . . . admission to schools,” much like the UAE property investor category. 

I’ve blogged before on this topic, but I’m clearly not the first to conceive it.  Financial reporter, Ezra Klein, of the Washington Post was an early espouser as was the State of Utah with its new guest worker program that, to be sure, will require a federal waiver.  Earlier still, the Race to the EAD concept is essentially a modern-day variation on a previous federal inducement to take down roots and prosper through property improvement and investment, America’s Homestead Act

A more recent precedent also comes to mind.  Despite vehement protests from the right, President Obama took bold steps to save the domestic auto industry, and thereby help a cluster of states, including Michigan, preserve and create numerous jobs. Candidate Romney’s non-credible protestations notwithstanding, U.S. auto companies in Michigan and other states are now on the mend and beginning to prosper.  A similar demonstration of executive chutzpah in launching, by regulation, a Race to the EAD program, would likewise spawn a virtuous cycle of rebirth and revitalization in my downtrodden hometown and many other job-starved communities throughout America.   

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[Blogger’s note:  The photo above is of the Groeschel Building.  The corner store in the building was a barbershop where I got my hair cut by Joe Messina, a buzz cut in the summer, a bit longer the rest of the year.  Photo source: Detroit: The History and Future of the Motor City, maintained by University of Michigan Sociology Professor, Reynolds Farley.]