Michigan's immigrant population is declining — except for one group

Sep 5, 2013

Fewer immigrants are choosing to make Michigan their new home, according to figures released by the Department of Homeland Security.

Last year, Michigan’s immigrant population dropped 4.6% — the second-lowest level in the past 12 years.  

That decline doesn’t fit with current immigration trends in the Midwest. Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Ohio have all seen an increase in immigration. Only Michigan and Wisconsin are experiencing a drop.

But while the number of newcomers coming to the state is on the decline, one immigrant group continues to flow to Michigan — Iraqis.

“Michigan is just second to California in terms of its attraction of Iraqi immigrants,” said Kurt Metzger, director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit.


The population of Iraqis coming to Michigan is not only substantial, but also diverse. While the official number only captures naturalized immigrants, refugees from the Middle Eastern nation are also flocking to the Great Lakes State. The state has also attracted both Muslim and Christian Iraqis — though the Chaldean population is significant in southeast Michigan.

“Primarily the Chaldean community... established itself in metropolitan Detroit,” Metzger said. Studies from Data Driven Detroit, the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, and the Chaldean Federation revealed metro Detroit’s Chaldean population hovers between 100,000 and 120,000. Nearly 60% of that population owns a business.

Metzger emphasizes that maintaining, and attracting immigrants to the state is critical for revitalizing Michigan’s cities.

“We find that immigrants are very entrepreneurial,” Metzger said. “They’re moving to neighborhoods that have seen disinvestment. They put money into redeveloping. They generate economic activity.”

And while Metzger says Gov. Rick Snyder has been active when it comes to recruiting newcomers to Michigan — even traveling to China this week in an attempt to bring in both businesses and people — more needs to be done to bring the state’s immigration numbers up.

“Michigan needs people,” said Metzger. “Michigan needs younger people. Michigan needs people in their childbearing years.”

Listen to the full interview above.

- Melanie Kruvelis, Michigan Radio Newsroom