from Africa in Transition

African Immigration and the United States

September 07, 2011

Blog Post

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Immigration and Migration

Race and Ethnicity

African immigrants watch a Carnavale parade in Tapachula February 28, 2009. After months of travel from African nations including Somalia and Ethiopia, the U.S. bound immigrants present themselves to Mexican authorities where they are held and processed for two weeks. (Daniel Leclair/Courtesy Reuters)

There is now a significant African-born population in the United States-- about four percent of 38.5 million immigrants. It is newer, younger, and better educated but also poorer than other immigrant groups, as  Kristen McCabe from the Migration Policy Institute notes in her fascinating article “U.S. in Focus: African Immigrants in the U.S.” (It should be noted that her statistics include North Africa and she does not discuss undocumented aliens.) It seems likely to me that their relative poverty reflects their recent arrival; other immigrants include significant numbers who have established themselves in the United States for a long time.

Some highlights: from 1980 to 2009, the African-born population in the United States increased from two hundred thousand to 1.5 million, with most immigrants from east and west Africa.  Almost half have arrived since 2000. The top countries of origin were Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya. Very few have come from southern or central Africa. About one-third live in New York, California, Texas, and Maryland, and about a quarter live in the greater metropolitan areas of New York and Washington. Their English skills and advanced educational levels are generally higher than those of other immigrant groups. In addition, McCabe reports that there are 3.5 million self-identified members of the African Diaspora, a figure that also includes those who are American born.

With the U.S. population more than three hundred million (only China and India are larger), the relative size of the African immigrant community is not large. Nevertheless, as African immigrants become U.S. citizens and the Diaspora grows, they may add a distinctive voice to American discourse on international affairs, especially where they are concentrated in specific electoral districts. That could encourage greater American sophistication and understanding of African issues and developments.