African Immigrant Population on the Increase


Graph from Pew Research Center showing the increase in immigration from Africa since 1970

The Pew Research Center has found that growth among immigrants from Africa has been faster than that of immigrants from any other region.

On Nov. 2, Monica Anderson at the Pew Research Center wrote a blog post discussing the steady climb of the African immigrant population in the U.S. She writes of a 41 percent increase in African immigrants from 2000 to 2013.

In 1970, the U.S. was home to only 80,000 foreign-born Africans. Back then, there was little opportunity for Africans to come legally to the U.S. as immigrants. Even the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended a preference for European immigrants and placed more emphasis on close family ties, did not have much of an impact. Persons of African origin in the U.S. were brought to this country as slaves in the early days of the republic, and thus family ties (when known) were too remote for the new preference system.

What changed between 1970 and today?

The 1980 Refugee Act began to move the U.S. away from a refugee protection system that focused almost exclusively on protecting persons fleeing communist regimes. After it became law, it was still a number of years before significant numbers of people from countries other than Vietnam, the Soviet Union and Cuba were admitted.

Today, however, Africa is well represented in the flow of refugees to this country. In 2014, more than 17,000 refugees from more than 25 sub-Saharan African countries were admitted.

The other immigration program making an impact on African immigration to the U.S. is the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.

Immigrants from a handful of countries have dominated the family preference immigration system. To provide better immigration opportunities to individuals from more countries, the Immigration Act of 1990 included a provision that allots immigrant visas by lottery, open only to individuals from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S.

Africans have benefited greatly from this program. In 2014, 22,703 immigrant visas allotted through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program went to African immigrants — 43 percent of the total number of visas awarded through the program.

As we have noted previously, African immigrants tend to naturalize very soon after they become eligible. In 2013, according to the Office of Immigration Statistics, immigrants born in Africa spent less time in legal permanent resident status before becoming citizens than did immigrants from other regions.

The African immigrant population is likely to continue to grow rapidly. In addition to the above programs, the family preference stream will increasingly include Africans, as immigrants already here petition for their family members. Their high naturalization rates should only quicken family reunification.


Posted on November 9, 2015

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People come to America from all over the world with dreams of achieving a better life for themselves and their families and calling this great nation home. Eight million people who live, work, and pay taxes in this country are eligible for citizenship, yet only about eight percent of them naturalize each year. Find out more about these individuals and the barriers they face.Read More