from Africa in Transition

An Update on African Immigration to the United States

April 10, 2015

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

I have written before about African immigration to the United States and the presence of African immigrants in New York City, a new demographic trend. On April 9, the Pew Research Center issued a new report, “A Rising Share of the U.S. Black Population is Foreign Born,” which updates and adds precision to the conversation about this important topic. The conclusion from Pew is that black immigrants are doing well and making a significant contribution to American society.

The Pew study addresses black immigration since 1980, about half of which is of Caribbean origin. (Jamaica and Haiti are the largest sources of black immigration). There is also black immigration from elsewhere, including South America and Mexico. But, Pew makes the important point that the recent growth in black immigration has been from Africa. Pew concludes that Africans are now 36 percent of the foreign-born black population. It states that African immigrants living in the United States rose from 574,000 to 1,400,000 between 2000 and 2013. The two largest African source countries are Nigeria and Ethiopia, with Ghana and Kenya supplying smaller numbers.

As is true for other immigrant groups, Africans concentrate themselves in a few cities, often drawing on already-existing networks. Africans are especially concentrated in the metropolitan areas of New York, Miami, and Washington, D.C., Pew finds.

Pew traces the origin of the current wave of African (and other) arrivals to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, with its focus on family reunification and skills; the Refugee Act of 1980, which provided a means for immigrants from conflict areas to come to the United States; and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990, which established a diversity visa program intended to facilitate immigration from underrepresented nations. It is well known that sub-Saharan Africa is a venue of conflict, and Pew finds that 28 percent of African immigrants arrive as refugees or asylum seekers, compared with 13 percent of the total immigrant population.

Pew compares foreign-born blacks (from all parts of the world, not just Africa) with the African-American population: the foreign born are older, more likely to have a bachelor’s degree, less likely to live in poverty, and much more likely to be married (in part because their average age, forty-two,  is higher than that of African Americans, twenty-nine). In comparison with the entire U.S. population, black immigrants are slightly less likely to have a college degree, and less likely to own their own homes.

Pew’s findings are based on analysis of the 2013 American Community Survey and the census of 1980, 1990, and 2000, all of which were produced by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.