from Africa in Transition

African Immigrants to the United States

October 23, 2014

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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I have written before about New York’s City’s African-born population. Here, I want to call attention to the current wave of African immigration to the United States.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, on October 23, 2014, the population of the United States was 319,131,500, the third largest in the world, after China and India. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey conducted 2008-2012, there were 39.8 million foreign-born in the United States. Of them, 1.6 million were from Africa, that is about 4 percent of the foreign-born population. That is a big increase from 1970, when there were only about eighty thousand foreign born from Africa, representing less than 1 percent of the foreign born population in the United States. Our African immigrant communities are mostly new. About three quarters of our Africa-born population came to the U.S. after 1990.

Census Bureau reports suggest specific milestones in African immigration. The U.S. Immigration Act of 1965 replaced the national origin quota system with a new law that prioritized skilled labor, family unification, and humanitarian concerns. In 2010, about a quarter of African immigrants came to the United States as refugees or received asylum. More generally, as the American economy pulled ahead of the old colonial powers and immigration to Western Europe became more difficult, the United States became increasingly attractive as a destination for African immigrants in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Many Africans also came to the United States in search of educational opportunities.

The four countries that provide the largest number of immigrants are Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Egypt. (Unlike the U.S. Department of State, the Census Bureau includes the North African Mediterranean littoral states as part of Africa rather than the Middle East). The four states that have received the largest number of immigrants are New York, California, Texas, and Maryland. Together, they include over one-third of the foreign born from Africa. The metropolitan areas with the largest African-born population are New York City, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

African immigrants are well educated. Forty-one percent of our African foreign-born have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 28 percent of the foreign born population as a whole. As of 2011, according to the Census Bureau, about 30 percent of the entire American population that is twenty-five years or older has a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.

The American Community Survey shows that the foreign-born population of African origin is still small relative to other groups, despite its rapid growth.

Unlike Europe, China, or Japan, the American population is not graying, largely because of immigration. The relative youthfulness of the American population is a source of vitality, and Africans are making their contribution.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

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