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African immigration to the United States

African immigration to the United States refers to immigrants to the United States who are or were nationals of modern African countries. The term African in the scope of this article refers to geographical or national origins rather than racial affiliation. Between the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and 2007, an estimated total of 0.8 to 0.9 million Africans immigrated to the United States, accounting for roughly 3.3% of all total U.S. immigrants during this period.[2]

African immigrants to the United States
Total population
  African : 3,183,104 (Subsaharan African: 2,847,199 + North African: 335,895) (2010 US Census) [1]
Regions with significant populations
Washington, D.C., New York, Maryland, California, Miami, Minneapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Houston
English (African English, American English), Arabic, Igbo, Yoruba, Akan, Lingala, French, Wolof, Swahili, Amharic, Somali, Tigrinya, Berber, Afrikaans, Hausa, Portuguese, Cape Verdean Crioulo, Spanish, others
Related ethnic groups
other African people

African immigrants in the United States come from almost all regions in Africa and do not constitute a homogeneous group. They include peoples from different national, linguistic, ethnic, racial, cultural and social backgrounds.[3] As such, African immigrants are distinct from African Americans, many of whose ancestors were involuntarily brought from West Africa to the United States by means of the historic Atlantic slave trade.


Immigration legislationEdit


In the 1870s, the Naturalization Act was extended to allow "aliens, being free white persons and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent" to acquire citizenship. Immigration from Africa was theoretically permitted, unlike non-white immigration from Asia.

Quotas enacted between 1921 and 1924Edit

Several laws enforcing national origins quotas on American immigration were enacted between 1921 and 1924 and were in effect until they were repealed in 1965. While the laws were aimed at restricting the immigration of Jews and Catholics from Central and Eastern Europe and immigration from Asia, they also impacted African immigrants. The legislation effectively excluded Africans from entering the country.

The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 restricted immigration from a given country to 3% of the number of people from that country living in the US according to the census of 1910. The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, reduced that to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the US in 1890. Under the system, the quota for immigrants from Africa (excluding Egypt) totaled 1,100. (The number was increased to 1,400 under the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act.) [4] That contrasted to immigrants from Germany, which had a limit of 51,227.[5]

Repeal of quotasEdit

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Cellar Act) repealed the national quotas and subsequently there was a substantial increase in the number of immigrants from "developing" countries, particularly in Africa and Asia. This act also provided a separate category for refugees. The act also provided greater opportunity for family reunification.

20th-century migration patternsEdit

The continent of Africa has seen many changes in migrations patterns over the course of history.[6] The influx of African immigrants began in the latter part of the 20th century and is often referred to as the "fourth great migration." About three-fourths of all out-migration from Africa went to the United States after 1990.[7] This trend began after decolonization, as many Africans came to the US seeking an education and to escape poverty, and has risen steadily over time. Originally, these immigrants came with the sole purpose of advancing themselves before returning to their respective countries. Although majority of these immigrants never return. However, in recent years there has been an increase in the number of African immigrants interested in gaining permanent residence in the US. This has led to a severe brain drain on the economies of African countries due to many skilled hard working Africans leaving Africa to seek their economic fortunes in the US mainly and elsewhere.


African immigrants' (US) ancestries in the 2000[8] – 2010[9] American Community Survey (from more than 1,000 people)
Ancestry 2000 2000 (% of US population) 2010 2010 (% of US population)
  Nigerian 162,938[8] negligible (no data) 264,550[9] negligible (no data)
  Egyptian 142,832[8] negligible (no data) 197,000[9] negligible (no data)
  Cape Verdean 77,103[8] negligible (no data) 95,003[9] negligible (no data)
  Ethiopian 68,001[8] negligible (no data) 202,715[9] negligible (no data)
  Ghanaian 49,944[8] negligible (no data) 91,322[9] negligible (no data)
  South African 44,991[8] negligible (no data) 57,491[9] negligible (no data)
  Moroccan 38,923[8] negligible (no data) 82,073[9] negligible (no data)
  Somali 36,313[8] negligible (no data) 120,102[9] negligible (no data)
  Eritrean 18,917[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
  Kenyan 17,336[8] negligible (no data) 51,749[9] negligible (no data)
  Sudanese 14,458[8] negligible (no data) 42,249[9] negligible (no data)
  Sierra Leonean 12,410[8] negligible (no data) 16,929[9] negligible (no data)
  Algerian 8,752[8] negligible (no data) 14,716[10] negligible (no data)
  Cameroonian 8,099[8] negligible (no data) 16,894[11] negligible (no data)
  Senegalese 6,124[8] negligible (no data) 11,369[9] negligible (no data)
    Congolese More than 5,488[8] negligible (no data) 11,009[11] negligible (no data)
  Tunisian 4,735[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
  Ugandan 4,707[8] negligible (no data) 12,549 negligible (no data)
  Zimbabwean 4,521[8] negligible (no data) 7,323[9] negligible (no data)
  Ivorian 3,110[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
  Gambian 3,035[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
  Guinea 3,016[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
  Libyan 2,979[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
  Tanzanian 2,921[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
  Malian 1,790[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
  Togolese 1,716[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
  Angolan 1,642[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
  Zambian 1,500[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
  Rwandan 1,480[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
"African" 1,183,316[8] negligible (no data) 1,676,413[9] negligible (no data)
"Western African" 6,810[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
"North African/Berber" 4,544 ("North Africans": 3,217; "Berbers": 1,327)[8] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
TOTAL 940,000[citation needed] 0.2%[citation needed] NA NA

Factors contributing to migrationEdit

One major factor that contributes to migration from Africa to the United States is inadequate planning of labor supply in certain African countries. This has led to an oversupply of specialized workers and a system that is incapable of supporting them.[12][citation needed] Furthermore, education in African countries tends to be modeled after educational idealism and are not very accommodating of local realities. Subsequently, it has been relatively easy for African immigrants to leave and enter international labor markets. In addition, many Africans come to the United States for advanced training. However, this tends to lead a training that is too specialized to be adequately used in their respective home countries.[13][citation needed] Since promotions in Africa are often based on seniority, young professionals eager to jumpstart their careers feel forced to migrate.[13][citation needed] For example, doctors from different African nations would come to America in order to gain more economic opportunities compared to their home country.[14] However, as more Africans emigrate to the United States, their reasoning and factors tend to become more complex.[15]


Metros with largest African-born population (2010 Census)
Metropolitan area African population % of total metro population
Washington, DC, MD-VA-WV 171,000 2.9
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN 70,100 1.3
Atlanta, GA 70,100 1.3
Boston, MA-NH 61,600 1.3
Baltimore Area, MD 33,100 1.2
New York, NY 223,000 1.1
Dallas–Fort Worth, TX 64,300 0.9
Houston, TX 56,100 0.9
Greater Los Angeles Area 68,100 0.5
San Francisco Bay Area 24,500 0.5

It is estimated that the current population of African immigrants to the United States is about 2.1 million.[16] According to the Migration Policy Institute, as of 2009 two-thirds of the African immigrants were from either East or West Africa.[17] Countries with the most immigrants to the US are Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa, Somalia, Eritrea, and Kenya. Seventy five percent (75%) of the African immigrants to the US come from 12 of the 55 countries, namely Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, Liberia, Somalia, Morocco, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone and Sudan (including what is now the independent country of South Sudan), which is based on the 2000 census data.[18]

Additionally, according to the US Census, 55% of immigrants from Africa are male, while 45% are female. Age groups with the largest cohort of African-born immigrants are 25–34, 35–44, and 45–54 with 24.5%, 27.9%, and 15.0% respectively.[19]

Africans typically congregate in urban areas, moving to suburban areas over time. They are also one of the least likeliest groups to live in racially segregated areas.[20][21] The goals of Africans vary tremendously. While some look to create new lives in the US, some plan on using the resources and skills gained to go back and help their countries of origin. Either way, African communities contribute millions to the economies of Africa through remittances.

Immigrants from Africa typically settle in heavily urban areas upon arrival into the US. Areas such as Washington, D.C., New York, Baltimore, Houston, Columbus, Ohio, Atlanta and Minneapolis have heavy concentrations of African immigrant populations. Often there are clusters of nationalities within these cities. The longer African immigrants live in the United States, the more likely they are to live in suburban areas.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are officially 40,000 African immigrants, although it has been estimated that the population is actually four times this number when considering undocumented immigrants. The majority of these immigrants were born in Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa.

African immigrants like many other immigrant groups are likely to establish and find success in small businesses. Many Africans that have seen the social and economic stability that comes from ethnic enclaves such as Chinatowns have recently been establishing ethnic enclaves of their own at much higher rates to reap the benefits of such communities.[22] Such examples include Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles and Little Senegal in New York City.

Educational attainmentEdit

African immigrants to the US are among the most educated groups in the United States. Some 48.9 percent of all African immigrants hold a college diploma. This is more than double the rate of native-born white Americans, and nearly four times the rate of native-born African Americans.[23] According to the 2000 Census, the rate of college diploma acquisition is highest among Egyptian Americans at 59.7 percent, followed closely by Nigerian Americans at 58.6 percent.[24][25]

In 1997, 19.4 percent of all adult African immigrants in the United States held a graduate degree, compared to 8.1 percent of adult white Americans and 3.8 percent of adult black Americans in the United States, respectively.[26] According to the 2000 Census, the percentage of Africans with a graduate degree is highest among Nigerian Americans at 28.3 percent, followed by Egyptian Americans at 23.8 percent.[24][25]

Of the African-born population in the US age 25 and older, 87.9% reported having a high school degree or higher,[27] compared with 78.8% of Asian-born immigrants and 76.8% of European-born immigrants, respectively.[28] Africans from Kenya (90.8 percent), Nigeria (89.1 percent), Ghana (85.9 percent), Botswana (84.7 percent), and Malawi (83 percent) were the most likely to report having a high school degree or higher.

Those born in Cape Verde (44.8 percent) and Mauritania (60.8 percent) were the least likely to report having completed a high school education.[29]


American immigrants from predominantly black nations in Africa and South America are generally healthier than black immigrants from predominantly white nations in Europe. A study conducted by Jen’nan Ghazal Read, a sociology professor at the UC Irvine, and Michael O. Emerson, a sociology professor at Rice University, studied the health of more than 2,900 black immigrants from top regions of emigration: the West Indies, Africa, South America and Europe. Blacks born in Africa and South America have been shown to be healthier than American born Blacks.[30][31]

The study was published in the September issue of Social Forces and is the first to look at the health of black immigrants by their region of origin.[32]


African immigrants tend to retain their culture once in the United States. Instead of abandoning their various traditions, they find ways to reproduce and reinvent themselves.[33] Cultural bonds are cultivated through shared ethnic or national affiliations. Some organizations like the Ghanaian group Fantse-Kuo and the Sudanese Association organize by country, region, or ethnic group. Other nonprofits like the Malawi Washington Association[34] organize by national identity, and are inclusive of all Malawians. Other groups present traditional culture from a pan-African perspective. Using traditional skills and knowledge, African-born entrepreneurs develop services for immigrants and the community at large. In the Washington area, events such as the annual Ethiopian soccer tournament, institutions such as the AME Church African Liberation Ministry, and "friends" and "sister cities" organizations bring together different communities. The extent to which African immigrants engage in these activities naturally varies according to the population.


The religious traditions of African immigrants tend to be pluralistic; they are seen not only as religious institutions, but in many cases also as civic centers. These organizations are central to persevering ethnic identity among these communities.[35][citation needed] African immigrant religious communities are also central networks and provide services such as counseling, shelter, employment, financial assistance, health services, and real estate tips.


African immigrants practice a diverse array of religions, including Christianity, Islam, and various traditional faiths. Of these adherents, the largest number are Pentecostals/Charismatic Christians. This form of Christianity is a "primarily evangelical, born-again Pentecostal sect that emphasizes holiness, fervent prayer, charismatic revival, proximate salvation, speaking in tongues, baptism of the Holy Spirit, faith healing, visions, and divine revelations."[35]

Among popular denominational churches are the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star, Seventh Day Adventist Church, Celestial Church of Christ, Cherubim and Seraphim, Christ Apostolic Church, Church of Pentecost, Deeper Life Bible Church, Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries (MFM), the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, the Redeemed Christian Church of God and [35][citation needed] Christ Embassy.

Additionally, Ethiopians and Eritreans have their own churches wherever there is a significant Ethiopian or Eritrean population. Their churches are mainly Ethiopian or Eritrean Orthodox and a few Catholic churches.

Continental African churchesEdit

Many African communities have created their own churches in the United States modeled on continental African churches. One example is the Bethel Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, which has a Pan-African congregation. It also conducts services in English and French. Many African churches are Pan-African, but some consist only of nationals from the country of origin. This allows for worship in the native languages of the congregation.


Muslim immigrants from nations in Africa adhere to diverse Islamic traditions. These include various Sunni, Shia and Sufi mainstream orders and schools (madhhab) from West Africa, the Swahili Coast, the Indian Ocean islands, the Horn of Africa and North Africa.

Cultural influenceEdit


Many local cable channels are now purchasing programming channels operated by various African communities. For example, Channel Africa is now available in some TV networks in the US. The channel is a showcase for outstanding travel, lifestyle and cultural series, specials and documentaries. These programs feature people of African descent and their stories.

The network's premiere on September 1, 2005, marked a milestone in US television history. For the first time, American audiences were able to experience the successes, celebrations and challenges of people living throughout Africa and the Diaspora, all via a general entertainment network. The network is broadcast in the US through national distribution deals with the largest cable MSOs in the country, including Comcast, Time Warner, and Cox. The Africa Channel is also available in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia, Barbados, Bermuda, Grenada and other islands in the Caribbean. Partners include former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young and his company, GoodWorks International; NBA stars Dikembe Mutombo and Theo Ratliff; Williams Group Holdings; and former US Senator Donald Stewart.

TV news services such as the Nigerian Television Authority, South African Broadcasting Channel and Ethiopian Television Programming are also available in some areas.


Nigerian Nollywood films and Ghanaian films can now be rented or purchased from Nigerian and Ghanaian stores and the like in Africa. They are very popular among Africans in the US from many different countries.


Immigrants from Africa have opened restaurants in urban areas. The DC and NYC Metro areas host many eateries belonging to the Liberian, Senegalese, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Kenyan, South African and other communities.


Notable African academics in the US include full tenured professors at the nation's top universities, including, at MIT, Elfatih A.B. Eltahir from Sudan;[36] at Caltech, 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Winner Ahmed Zewail from Egypt; at Yale, professor Lamin Sanneh [37] from Gambia; at Pennsylvania State University, professor Augustin Banyaga, from Rwanda; at Harvard, professors Jacob Olupona,[38] from Nigeria, Barack Obama Sr. from Kenya, Emmanuel K. Akyeampong from Ghana,[39] Biodun Jeyifo from Nigeria,[39] and John Mugane from Kenya;[39] and at Princeton, Adel Mahmoud [40] from Egypt, Wole Soboyejo[41] from Nigeria, Simon Gikandi [42] from Kenya, V. Kofi Agawu from Ghana,[43] and Kwame Anthony Appiah from Ghana.

In sports, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Freddy Adu are prominent.

In the arts, Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron and Grammy Award-winning musician Dave Matthews, both white South Africans; and two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Djimon Hounsou and Grammy-winning musician Angelique Kidjo, both from Benin; and recently Lupita Nyong'o and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, are most notable.

Notable African immigrantsEdit

The following is a list of notable African nationals who have immigrated to and now at least partially reside in the US.

Academia and scienceEdit


  • Muna Khalif, Somali, fashion designer and politician; MP in the Federal Parliament of Somalia
  • Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, Mauritanian, scholar and politician; former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mauritania
  • Ihan Omar, Somali, Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party Member of the Minnesota House of Representatives

TV and filmEdit



  • Roelof Botha, South African, former Chief Financial Officer of PayPal
  • Kase Lukman Lawal, Nigerian, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, CAMAC Holdings
  • Elon Musk, South African, co-founder of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors; CEO and CTO of SpaceX; CEO and Product Architect of Tesla Motors; Chairman of SolarCity


Journalism and literatureEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Total ancestry categories tallied for people with one or more ancestry categories reported 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 30 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Yoku Shaw-Taylor, Steven A. Tuch, The African contemporary African and Caribbean immigrants in the United States, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7425-4088-0.
  3. ^ David E. Kyoso, Immigrants in the United States, (Godfrey Mwakikagile: 2010), p. 110.
  4. ^ [Bashi, V. (2004, July 4). Globalizing Anti-Blackness: Transnationalzing Western Immigration law, policy and practice. Retrieved May 1, 2010, from Ethnic and Racial Studies:[permanent dead link]]
  5. ^ George Mason University. (1998). Who was Shut Out?: Immigration Quotas, 1925-1927. Retrieved May 1, 2010, from History Matters:
  6. ^ Collyer, Michael, ed. Emigration nations: Policies and ideologies of emigrant engagement. Springer, 2013.
  7. ^ Gambino, Christine P., Edward N. Trevelyan, and John Thomas Fitzwater. "The foreign-born population from Africa: 2008–2012." American Community Survey Briefs 5 (2014).
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag "Table 1. First, Second, and Total Responses to the Ancestry Question by Detailed Ancestry Code: 2000". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Total ancestry categories tallied for people with one or more ancestry categories reported 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 30 November 2012. 
  10. ^ "Citizenship Status in the United States: Total population in the United States. 2006–2010 American Community Survey Selected Population Tables". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 2013-12-06. 
  11. ^ a b "Place of Birth for the Foreign-Born Population in the United States, Universe: Foreign-born population excluding population born at sea, 2007–2011 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  12. ^ Apraku, K. K. (1991). African Emigres in the United States: A Missing Link in Africa's Social and Economic Development. New York: Praeger.
  13. ^ a b (Apraku, 1991)
  14. ^ Hagopian, Amy, et al. "The migration of physicians from sub-Saharan Africa to the United States of America: measures of the African brain drain." Human resources for health 2.1 (2004): 17.
  15. ^ Thomas, Kevin JA. "What explains the increasing trend in African emigration to the US?." International Migration Review 45.1 (2011): 3-28.
  16. ^ Solomon, Salem (February 17, 2017). "African Immigrant Population on Rise in US". Voice of America. Retrieved 26 February 2017. 
  17. ^ McCabe, Kristen. "African immigrants in the United States." Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute (2011).
  18. ^ Otiso, Kefa (11 June 2007). "African Immigrants a Successful Bunch, But Not Overall". MShale news. Archived from the original on 22 June 2007. Retrieved 30 October 2016. 
  19. ^ US Census Bureau – People Born in Africa
  20. ^ Logan, John; Deane, Glenn (15 August 2003). "Black Diversity in Metropolitan America". Lewis Mumford Center. Retrieved 30 October 2016. 
  21. ^ "How African-Americans and African Immigrants Differ". The Globalist. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  22. ^ "African immigrants hope for a Chicago community of their own". Chicago Tribune. 14 January 2013. Retrieved 14 July 2013. 
  23. ^ African Immigrants in the United States are the Nation's Most Highly Educated Group. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 26 (Winter, 1999–2000), pp. 60–61 doi:10.2307/2999156
  24. ^ a b "Table FBP-1. Profile of Selected Demographic and Social Characteristics: 2000; Population Universe: People Born in Nigeria; Geographic Area: United States" (PDF). 
  25. ^ a b "Table FBP-1. Profile of Selected Demographic and Social Characteristics: 2000; Population Universe: People Born in Egypt; Geographic Area: United States" (PDF). 
  26. ^ African Immigrants in the United States have the highest rate of education. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 26 (Winter, 1999–2000), pp. 60–61 doi:10.2307/2999156
  27. ^ "Demographics and Statistics of Immigrants : Asian-Nation :: Asian American History, Demographics, & Issues". Asian-Nation. Retrieved 2010-11-08. 
  28. ^ Characteristics of the African Born in the United States. Migration Policy Institute. January, 2006
  29. ^ Dixon, D. (2006). Characteristics of the African Born in the United States. Migration Policy Institute. January, 2006
  30. ^ "Black immigrants from Africa arrive healthier than those from Europe: From MedicineWorld.Org". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  31. ^ Today@UCI: Press Releases:[dead link]
  32. ^ "Project MUSE". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  33. ^ Olupona, J. K., & Gemignani, R. (Eds.). (2007). African Immigrant Religion in America. New York: New York University Press.
  34. ^ Malawi Washington Association
  35. ^ a b c (Olupona & Gemignani, 2007)
  36. ^ "Eltahir CV". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  37. ^ "Welcome". Archived from the original on 1 November 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  38. ^ "Jacob K. Olupona". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  39. ^ a b c "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-16. Retrieved 2012-03-05. 
  40. ^ Princeton University. "Adel Mahmoud". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  41. ^ "Soboyejo – Princeton University – Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  42. ^ "Comparative Literature". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  43. ^ Princeton University. "Department of Music". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  44. ^ "Princeton University - Appiah awarded National Humanities Medal". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  45. ^ "Kwabena Boahen". Retrieved 2010-11-08. 
  46. ^ "Faculty - Department of Bioengineering - Stanford University School of Medicine and School of Engineering". 2008-06-20. Archived from the original on 2010-06-16. Retrieved 2010-11-08. 
  47. ^ "Leader Named at Mosque". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  48. ^ "Abdul Kallon". Retrieved 2015-07-14. 
  49. ^ "A Conversation With Nawal Nour; A Life Devoted to Stopping The Suffering of Mutilation", The New York Times, Claudia Dreifus, July 11, 2000
  50. ^ President of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
  51. ^ "Kwasi Wiredu". Retrieved 2015-07-14. 
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External linksEdit