The Growth of African Immigration in America

How has the U.S. Immigration Law driven the growth in African immigration to the United States?

According to African Union, the term “African Immigrants” consists of people of African origin outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality. In the United States, immigrants from Africa constitute a highly diverse and rapidly growing group. African immigrants are to be distinguished from African Americans, the latter of whom are descendants of mostly West and Central Africans who were involuntarily brought to the United States by means of historic Atlantic slave trade.

Following the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, levels of African immigrants to the United States were low. From 1860’s through 1950’s, fewer than 500 Africans arrived each year on average. In 2010, nearly 1.5 million U.S. residents were born in Africa. This was roughly 40 times the number present in 1960 and four times the number in 1980.

Changes in U.S. immigration law have driven the growth of African immigration to the United States. These changes include the establishment of the “Diversity Visa” (DV) program (this program admits 50,000 immigrants each year from countries that historically send few immigrants to the United States), the expansion of the “Family Reunification” provisions in immigration law, and the liberalization of the U.S. Refugee Policy which expanded humanitarian admission beyond those fleeing Communist regimes. In addition, it has been documented that “push factors,” including stagnant economic growth and displacement of refugees, have spurred emigration from Africa.

70% of the African immigrants, who are not refugees, enter the U.S. through sponsorship by an American citizen family member (40%), employment-based visas for skilled workers (9%) or the DV program (22%). Due to the challenges of qualifying and applying for DV admission, the DV lottery program tends to attract highly educated and skilled African immigrants.

Two-fifths of African immigrants in the United States have an education of bachelor’s degree or higher. They are willing to take jobs for which they are overqualified and do not blame the “system” when they fail in their endeavors. After suffering years in civil wars, human rights abuse, corruption, rape, military coups and other problems, African immigrants are happy to be in a country that offers them freedom. They are ready to integrate into the American culture without getting involved in the lingering racial conflicts. Research indicates that the increased population of African immigrants in the United States has no effect on crime rates. In fact, they are associated with lower levels of crime and violence.

African immigrants in the United States come from almost all regions in Africa and do not constitute a homogeneous group. They include people from different national, linguistic, ethnic, racial, cultural and social backgrounds.


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