African Immigrants in the United States
While the trans-Atlantic slave trade brought large numbers of Africans to the United States as forced migrants from the 16th to the 19th centuries, significant voluntary migration from Africa to the United States did not begin in earnest until the 1980s. From 1980 to 2009, the African-born population in United States grew from just under 200,000 to almost 1.5 million. Today, Africans make up a small (3.9 percent) but growing share of the country’s 38.5 million immigrants.
In 2009, almost two-thirds of African immigrants were from Eastern and Western Africa, but no individually reported country accounted for more than 14.1 percent of the foreign born from the Africa region. The top countries of origin for the African born were Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya.
Classes of admission for African immigrants who gained lawful permanent residence in 2010 were also diverse, with 48 percent having done so through family relationships, 24 percent through the diversity visa program, 22 percent as refugees and asylees, 5 percent through employment, and the rest through other means.
Compared to the foreign born overall, African immigrants reported higher levels of English proficiency and educational attainment in 2009, and were more likely to be of working age and to participate in the labor force. Yet African immigrants were also more likely to be recent arrivals to the United States and to live in households with an annual income below the poverty line. Overall, striking differences are evident across African origin countries, with some refugee-origin countries appearing as outliers in certain measures of immigrant integration.
This Spotlight focuses on African immigrants residing in the United States, and examines the population’s size, geographic distribution, admission categories, legal status, and demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. The data used are the most recent detailed data available and come from the US Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey (ACS), the 2000 Decennial Census (as well as earlier censuses), and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS).
Size and Geographic Distribution
- In 2009, about 1.5 million African immigrants resided in the United States.
- African immigrants made up 3.9 percent of all immigrants in 2009.
- Nearly two-thirds of African immigrants were from Eastern or Western Africa in 2009.
- The top countries of origin for African immigrants were Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya.
- Over one-third of all African immigrants resided in New York, California, Texas, and Maryland.
- Almost one-quarter of the African-born population lived in the metropolitan areas of New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA and Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV.
- About one in five immigrants in the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI metropolitan area was born in Africa.
- There were 3.5 million self-identified members of the African diaspora residing in the United States in 2009.
Modes of Entry and Legal Status
- From 2001 to 2010, African nationals accounted for 28.4 percent of refugee arrivals and 21.2 percent of persons granted asylum.
- An estimated 4,550 Africans received temporary protection from removal under Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure.
- Nearly half of all immigrants who received green cards through the diversity visa lottery program in 2010 were born in Africa.
- Over 860,000 African immigrants gained lawful permanent residence in the United States between 2001 and 2010.
- Naturalization rates for the African born and the foreign born overall were comparable in 2009.
Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview
- Almost half of the African foreign born in the United States have arrived since 2000.
- The foreign born from Africa were less likely to be age 65 or older than the native born and the foreign born overall.
- African immigrant men outnumbered women in 2009.
- More than seven out of ten African immigrants spoke only English or spoke English "very well."
- Nearly three-quarters of African immigrants reported their race as "Black."
- African-born adults were more likely than the native born to have bachelor’s degree or higher level of education.
- African immigrants of both genders were more likely to participate in the civilian labor force than were foreign-born men and women overall.
- More than 30 percent of employed African-born men worked in service occupations and in construction, extraction, and transportation.
- The African born were more likely to live in poverty in 2009 than were the native born and the foreign born overall.
- Roughly 714,000 children resided with least one African-born parent in 2009.
Size and Geographic Distribution
In 2009, about 1.5 million African immigrants resided in the United States.
The number of African immigrants in the United States has increased more than 40-fold over the past 50 years, growing from 35,355 in 1960 to almost 1.5 million in 2009.
This growth has been driven in large part by increasing numbers of immigrants from Eastern Africa and Western Africa, who made up almost two-thirds of the entire African immigrant population. Although pre-1980 estimates of these two populations are not available, the numeric growth of the Western African (which grew by 492,030) and Eastern African (397,262) immigrant populations from 1980 to 2009 each outweighed that of African populations from any other individually reported region.
Although African immigrants account for a relatively small percent of the total foreign born, the share of African-born immigrants has increased consistently over the past 50 years. Though African immigrants represented only 0.4 percent of all foreign born in 1960, this share grew to 1.4 percent in 1980, to 1.8 percent in 1990, and to 2.8 percent in 2000.
Nearly two-thirds of African immigrants were from Eastern or Western Africa in 2009.
In 2009, about two-thirds (64.7 percent, or 965,330) of African immigrants in the United States were born in Western Africa or Eastern Africa (see Regional Designations sidebar).
Western Africa was the leading region of birth for African immigrants with 542,032 individuals (or 36.3 percent of all African immigrants), followed by Eastern Africa (28.4 percent; 423,298), Northern Africa (17.7 percent; 264,536), Southern Africa (5.7 percent; 85,145), and Middle Africa (4.4 percent; 65,457). For the remaining African immigrants (7.5 percent; 112,317), information on the region of birth was not available.
The shares of African immigrants born in Western, Eastern, and Middle Africa have increased substantially since 1980, the first year data is available for these regions. Conversely, the share of the African born from Northern Africa has decreased each decade since 1960, and the share from Southern Africa has decreased each decade since 1990 (see Table 2).