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State proposes elite immigration to save Detroit

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder unveiled a proposal Thursday calling for the U.S. government to allocate 50,000 special visas over the next five years to lure highly skilled immigrants to live and work in the bankrupt city of Detroit.

Snyder's plan, which would involve EB-2 visas and require federal implementation, is aimed at bringing jobs to the city while stemming an exodus of residents.

Detroit's population has fallen to about 700,000 from a peak of 1.8 million in 1950, and Snyder highlighted the available opportunities for newcomers.

(Read more: Michigan governor to support Detroit aid package)

EB-2 visas allow people with special talents to enter the country without a job offer. The visas would be aimed at those with advanced degrees and exceptional skills in sectors including the auto industry, information technology, health care and life sciences, Snyder said at an event announcing the proposal.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
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There is no precedent for such visas to be issued for a specific geographic area, Snyder said. But he compared the program to a current one that grants visas to physicians who agree to work in underserved area.

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Snyder would need the support of the Obama administration and an expansion of immigration policy at a time when immigration reform is a contentious political issue.

The governor will be in Washington on Friday and said he would meet privately with administration officials. Though he said "it's really early in the process," Snyder is hopeful the White House can act without legislation.

"It's really taking up the offer of the federal government that they want to help more," the governor told reporters. "Again, they made it clear they don't have dollar resources to necessarily help, but isn't this a great way that doesn't involve large-scale financial contributions from the federal government to do something dramatic in Detroit?"

Snyder, a Republican, was joined at the event by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a Democrat, as well as City Council members.

The governor is asking that 5,000 visas be issued in the first year, with 10,000 in each of the following three years and 15,000 in the fifth year.

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The program would target individuals looking to move to the United States as well as those already in the country.

Snyder called attention to more than 25,000 international students at colleges and universities in Michigan, which has faced a "brain drain" of recent college graduates.

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"Where else in the U.S. could you find a house or a lot for the prices you're going to find here?" he asked. "It's a good deal."

—By Reuters