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The number of African immigrants in the United States grew 40-fold between 1960 and 2007, from 35,355 to 1.4 million. Most of this growth has taken place since 1990.
Compared to other immigrants, the African born tend to be highly educated and speak English well. However, they are also more likely not to be naturalized U.S. citizens than other immigrants.
The top individual countries of origin of the African born are Nigeria, Egypt, and Ethiopia. In the United States, Africans are concentrated in New York, California, Texas, Maryland, and Virginia (for more information on immigrants by state, please see the 2006 ACS/Census Data tool on the MPI Data Hub).
This Spotlight focuses on African immigrants residing in the United States, examining the population's size, geographic distribution, socioeconomic characteristics, and admission categories using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2007 American Community Survey (ACS) and 2000 Decennial Census, and the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) for 2007.
Size and Distribution
Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview
Admission Categories of the African Immigrant Population
Size and Distribution
There were 1.4 million foreign born from Africa residing in the United States in 2007.
The 1960 census counted 35,355 African immigrants, a number that increased over 40-fold to 1,419,317 African immigrants in 2007. In 1970, there were 80,143 African immigrants in the United States, which grew to 199,723 in 1980, 363,819 in 1990, and 881,300 in 2000.
African immigrants made up 3.7 percent of all immigrants in 2007.
In 1960, African immigrants composed 0.4 percent of all foreign born in the United States. That share increased to 1.4 percent in 1980 and to 1.8 percent in 1990. African immigrants' share increased dramatically to 2.8 percent in 2000 and 3.7 percent in 2007 (see Table 1).
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About one-third of African immigrants were from West Africa.
About one-third (35.6 percent, or 505,619) African immigrants in the United States are from West Africa (see sidebar for definitions of the regions). There are also large numbers of East Africans (27.2 percent, or 386,225) in the United States.
North Africans accounted for 19.4 percent (274,951) of African immigrants in the United States in 2007, followed by Southern Africans (5.7 percent, or 81,595) and Middle Africans (3.9 percent, or 56,056).
About 8.1 percent (114,871) of African immigrants in the 2007 American Community Survey did not indicate a country of birth.
Regions of Africa
The top countries of origin for African immigrants were Nigeria, Egypt, and Ethiopia.
The top five countries of origin of the 1.4 million African immigrants in the United States were Nigeria (13.1 percent, or 185,787), Egypt (9.6 percent, or 136,648), Ethiopia (9.5 percent, or 134,547), Ghana (7.4 percent, or 104,842), and Kenya (5.7 percent, or 80,595).
Over half of all African immigrants resided in New York, California, Texas, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. In 2007, New York had the largest number of African immigrants (151,697, or 10.7 percent), followed by California (145,335, or 10.2 percent), Texas (119,116, or 8.4 percent), Maryland (111,698, or 7.9 percent), Virginia (79,661, or 5.6 percent), New Jersey (74,031, or 5.2 percent), and Massachusetts (70,231, or 4.9 percent).
Together, these seven states accounted for 53.0 percent (751,769) of all African-born immigrants.
Over one-third (34.0 percent) of the 1.4 million African immigrants in the United States lived in four metropolitan areas. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA, was the metropolitan area with the largest number of African born (196,531, or 13.8 percent), followed by Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV (159,928, or 11.3 percent), Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA (64,567, or 4.5 percent), and Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI (61,228, or 4.3 percent).
Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview
More than 75 percent of the African foreign born in the United States have arrived since 1990.
As of 2007, 44.0 percent of the 1.4 million African foreign born entered the country in 2000 or later, and 32.4 percent entered between 1990 and 1999. An additional 13.7 percent entered between 1980 and 1989, 6.9 percent between 1970 and 1979, and the remaining 3.0 percent prior to 1970.
Over three-quarters of African immigrants in 2007 were adults of working age.
Of the African immigrants residing in the United States in 2007, 10.9 percent were minors (under age 18), 76.3 percent were of working age (between ages 18 and 54), and 12.8 percent were seniors (age 55 or older).
Of the foreign-born population in the United States in 2007, 7.8 percent were minors, 69.6 percent were of working age, and 22.6 percent were seniors.
The majority of African immigrants were not U.S. citizens in 2007.
Among the African foreign born, 60.2 percent were not U.S. citizens in 2007, compared to 57.4 percent among the overall foreign-born population.
In 2007, less than one in three African immigrants was limited English proficient.
About 47.1 percent of the 1.4 million African immigrants age 5 and older reported speaking “English only” while 24.1 percent reported speaking English "very well." In contrast, 28.8 percent reported speaking English less than “very well,” much lower than the 52.4 percent reported among all foreign born age 5 and older.
(Note: The term "limited English proficient" refers to any person age 5 and older who reported speaking English "not at all," "not well," or "well" on their survey questionnaire. Individuals who reported speaking only English or speaking English "very well" are considered proficient in English.)
Over three-quarters of limited English proficient African immigrants in 2007 spoke one of five languages.
Among African immigrants age 5 and older who reported speaking English less than “very well,” the most common languages spoken were Arabic (20.1 percent), Amharic/Ethiopian (15.6 percent), French (14.3 percent), Kru (a language spoken in southeastern Liberia and eastern Côte d'Ivoire, 13.6 percent), and Cushite/Beja/Somali (12.6 percent).
Over-three quarters (76.2 percent) of the 398,000 limited English proficient African immigrants spoke one of these five languages.
About two of every five African foreign-born adults had a bachelor's or higher degree.
In 2007, 42.5 percent of the 1.1 million African-born adults age 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher compared to 27.0 percent among the 31.6 million foreign-born adults. About one-quarter (25.2 percent) of African-born adults age 25 and older had some college education (less than a bachelor's degree) or an associate's degree compared to 17.1 percent of all foreign-born adults.
On the other end of the education continuum, about 11.3 percent of African immigrants had no high school diploma or the equivalent general education diploma (GED), compared to 31.9 percent among all foreign-born adults. About 21.1 percent of African-born adults had a high school diploma or GED compared to 24.0 percent among all foreign-born adults.
African immigrant men and women were more likely to participate in the civilian labor force than foreign-born men and women overall.
In 2007, African-born men age 16 and older were more likely to be in the civilian labor force (84.0 percent) than African-born women (65.6 percent). Both African-born men and women were much more likely to be in the civilian labor force than all foreign-born men (79.0 percent) and women (54.8 percent).
About 30 percent of employed African-born men worked in service occupations and in construction, extraction, and transportation.
Among the 543,964 African-born male workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force, 16.4 percent reported working in construction, extraction, and transportation, 14.1 percent reported working in services, and 12.6 percent reported working in management, business, and finance.
Compared to other male immigrants, African-born male workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force were more likely to report working in health-care support occupations; as registered nurses, physicians, and other health-care workers; and in social services and legal occupations (see Table 2).
Among the 350,462 African-born female workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force, 18.4 percent reported working in service occupations, 13.4 percent in administrative support occupations, and 12.7 percent in health-care support occupations.
Compared to other female immigrants, African-born female workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force were more likely to report working as health-care practitioners and in other health-care support occupations (see Table 2).
Admission Categories of the African Immigrant Population
More than 500,000 Africans have gained lawful permanent residence in the United States since 2000.
Between 2000 and 2007, 570,661 African-born immigrants obtained lawful permanent residence (LPR) in the United States — about 7.1 percent of the 8.1 million immigrants who received LPR status over the same period. The African born accounted for 9.0 percent (or 94,711) of the 1.1 million immigrants who received lawful permanent residence in 2007.
The top five countries of origin of African immigrants who obtained lawful permanent residence in the United States between 2000 and 2007 were Nigeria (77,939, or 1.0 percent of all who gained LPR status), Ethiopia (71,140, or 0.9 percent), Egypt (51,003, or 0.6 percent), Ghana (45,825, or 0.6 percent), and Somalia (37,850, or 0.5 percent).
The top five countries of origin of African immigrants who obtained lawful permanent residence in the United States in 2007 were Ethiopia (12,786, or 1.2 percent of the 1.1 million immigrants receiving LPR status), Nigeria (12,448, or 1.2 percent), Egypt (9,267, or 0.9 percent), Ghana (7,610, or 0.7 percent), and Kenya (7,030, or 0.7 percent).
Nearly 40 percent of African-born lawful permanent residents in 2007 were the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
Of the 94,711 African born granted LPR status in 2007, 39.5 percent (37,414) were the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, 27.6 percent (26,178) were refugees and asylees, 20.4 percent (19,277) were admitted on diversity visas, 6.1 percent (5,810) were employment-based immigrants, and 5.9 percent (5,603) were family-sponsored immigrants.
(Note: The diversity visa category, which is authorized under section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Potential immigrants must apply for eligibility and visas are awarded at random by lottery selection.)
About one-third of all refugees and asylees admitted to the United States in 2007 were from Africa.
The United States admitted 60,680 refugees and asylees in 2007. About one-third (32.9 percent, or 19,986) were from Africa.
The top five countries of origin of African-born refugees and asylees admitted in 2007 were Somalia (7,031, or 11.6 percent of all refugees and asylees), Burundi (4,571, or 7.5 percent), Liberia (1,655, or 2.7 percent), Ethiopia (1,525, or 2.5 percent), and Eritrea (1,116, or 1.8 percent).
Most Africans admitted to the United States on temporary nonimmigrant visas were tourists and business travelers.
Of the 37.1 million nonimmigrant admissions in 2007, about 1.1 percent (426,922) came from Africa.
Over three-quarters (76.3 percent, or 325,913) of nonimmigrant admissions from Africa were tourists and business travelers. About 8.1 percent (34,640) were students and exchange visitors, and 6.1 percent (25,977) were temporary workers and their families. The remaining 9.5 percent (40,392) included diplomats and other representatives of governments, among other nonimmigrants.
(Note: Admissions represent counts of events, i.e., arrivals, not unique individuals, so the total number of admissions exceeds the number of non-immigrants admitted. The total number of admissions excludes the majority of short-term admissions from Canada and Mexico.)
Three countries accounted for more than half of temporary nonimmigrant admissions from Africa.
Over half (55.7 percent) of temporary nonimmigrant admissions from Africa in 2007 were from South Africa (29.2 percent, or 124,564), Nigeria (16.4 percent, or 69,985), and Egypt (10.1 percent, or 43,139). They were followed by Kenya (5.1 percent, or 21,843), Ghana (4.9 percent, or 20,903), and Morocco (including Western Sahara, 4.4 percent, or 18,856).
About half of temporary worker admissions from Africa were specialty occupation workers and intracompany transferees.
The African born accounted for a very small share (1.3 percent, or 25,977) of the total 1.9 million temporary worker admissions in 2007 (including families of temporary workers).
About half (49.9 percent) of temporary worker admissions from Africa were specialty occupation workers on H-1B visas (32.8 percent, or 8,529) while intracompany transferees on L-1 visas accounted for 17.1 percent (4,444).
In addition, there were 2,006 (7.7 percent) admissions for seasonal nonagricultural workers on H-2B and H-2R visas; 1,418 (5.5 percent) admissions for athletes, artists, or entertainers on P-1, P-2, and P-3 visas; 1,053 (4.1 percent) admissions for seasonal agricultural workers on H-2A visas; and 551 (2.1 percent) admissions for workers with extraordinary ability or achievement on O-1 and O-2 visas.
The top countries of origin of temporary worker admissions from Africa (including the families of temporary workers) in 2007 were South Africa (41.5 percent, or 10,791 admissions), Nigeria (13.4 percent, or 3,475), Egypt (9.5 percent, or 2,455), Kenya (7.0 percent, or 1,806), and Ghana (4.7 percent, or 1,212).
For information about ACS methodology, sampling error, and nonsampling error, click here.
U.S. Census Bureau. 2006 American Community Survey. Accessed from Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, et al., Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center, 2004.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. 2007 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, various tables. Available online.