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USA/Africa: New Statistics on Immigrant Communities

AfricaFocus Bulletin
October 14, 2014 (141014)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

According to a new brief from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, based on data from 2008-2012, there are approximately 1.6 million people living in the United States who were born in Africa. Although these numbers do not include children born in the United States, and may well be an underestimate, the data show an extraordinary rate of growth, from 1 percent of the foreign-born population in 1970 (less than 80,000 born in Africa) to 4 percent in 2008-2012.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from this report, which was released in July 2014. The full report, with graphs, tables, and footnotes to sources, is available at / direct URL:

It also contains brief summaries of new reports on immigrant communities from six African countries, recently published by the Migration Policy Institute.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletin on migration issues, visit

Ebola Perspectives - Update

Except for the frenzied media spotlight on Dallas, the media has paid little attention to the role of immigrant communities from the countries most affected by Ebola, namely Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Two exceptions, previously featured on AfricaFocus social media (visit - brief excepts only - click on links for stories.

Note: if readers note other such stories available on the web, please send me the links (at so that I can highlight them on AfricaFocus social media.

(1) "The fight to save the last Ebola-free district in Sierra Leone," Washington Post, October 10, 2014 (scroll down after clicking)

"The last region in Sierra Leone untouched by Ebola sits in the rugged, mountainous north, in a place called the Koinadugu district. It is a poor place, dependent on small farms and gold mines, the largest of the country's 14 districts by land size and home to 265,000 residents. The district borders Guinea, where the current Ebola outbreak began and first spilled over into Sierra Leone. Koinadugu is surrounded by districts dealing with hundreds of Ebola cases.

But Koinadugu has kept the virus at bay.


The district's success was no accident. It has been the result of concerted, early efforts to staunch the spread of the disease, sometimes turning to novel measures, tailoring details to fit the region's unique needs. Most of the planning has fallen to a man named Momoh Konte [a Sierra Leonean living in Washington, DC]. He, along with district government and tribal officials, have managed to do what has seemed impossible elsewhere."

(2) "U.S. Ebola case has local West African community reaching out," Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 2, 2014

"Within hours of hearing about an Ebola diagnosis in Dallas, rattled leaders in the Twin Cities Liberian community sprang to action.

For local Liberians, the first stateside Ebola case lent new urgency to a tricky double mission: Preach vigilance to the metro area's community of some 30,000 Liberian natives, the largest outside Africa. Ease anxieties in the wider community and the fallout from them, from Liberian restaurants losing business to Liberians fielding questions from the anxious parents of playmates."

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

The Foreign-Born Population from Africa: 2008-2012

American Community Survey Briefs, ACSBR/12-16

By Christine P. Gambino, Edward N. Trevelyan, and John Thomas Fitzwater

Issued October 2014

[Excerpts only - for full text, including figures, footnotes, and downloadable tables, visit / direct URL:]


According to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey (ACS), 39.8 million foreign-born people resided in the United States, including 1.6 million from Africa, or about 4 percent of the total foreign-born population. In 1970, there were about 80,000 African foreign born, representing less than 1 percent of the total foreign-born population (Figure 1). During the following four decades, the number of foreign born from Africa grew rapidly, roughly doubling each decade.

About three-fourths of the foreign-born population from Africa came to live in the United States after 1990. The timing of this movement was driven in part by historical changes. Outmigration from Africa increased rapidly after World War II, as migrants responded to the pull of educational opportunities and jobs abroad. While the first waves of postwar migrants went to other African countries and former colonial powers of Europe, migration to the United States increased in the 1970s as economies faltered and new restrictions were placed upon immigration in Western Europe.

More immigrants from Africa were admitted to the United States after the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965, which replaced the national origin quota system favoring immigration from Europe with a new law prioritizing skilled labor, family unification, and humanitarianism. In addition, nearly a quarter of all immigrants from Africa to the United States in 2010 entered as refugees or received asylum as a result of ethnic conflict or civil war, particularly in countries such as Somalia, Liberia, and Sudan. The rate of African-born immigrants arriving and staying in the United States accelerated further as immigrant networks grew and pathways were established.

This brief discusses the size, place of birth, geographical distribution, and educational attainment of the foreign born from Africa. Data are presented at the national, state, and metropolitan levels based on the 2008-2012 ACS 5-year file.

African Regions and Countries of Birth

Of the 1.6 million foreign born from Africa in the United States, 36 percent were from Western Africa, 29 percent were from Eastern Africa, and 17 percent were from Northern Africa, followed by Southern Africa (5 percent), Middle Africa (5 per- cent), and other Africa (7 percent) (Figure 2, Table 1). Since 2000, the foreign born from Africa increased by over 700,000 persons, up from a total of 881,300. Over 490,000, or about 70 percent of that growth, has been from countries in Western and Eastern Africa.

The largest African-born populations were from Nigeria and Ghana in Western Africa; Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia in Eastern Africa; Egypt in Northern Africa; and South Africa in Southern Africa. Of these seven, the four largest were Nigeria (221,000 or 14 percent of the African-born population), Ethiopia (164,000 or 10 percent), Egypt (143,000 or 9 percent), and Ghana (121,000 or 8 percent), together constituting 41 percent of the African-born total.

Geographic distribution of the foreign-born population from Africa

Four states had more than 100,000 foreign born from Africa: New York (164,000), California (155,000), Texas (134,000), and Maryland (120,000) (Table 2). When combined, these four states represented over one-third (36 percent) of the foreign born from Africa.

Among states with at least 2,500 foreign born from Africa, Rhode Island had the highest percentage of the African born from Western Africa (82 percent), while over half of the African born in Massachusetts and New York (each 52 percent) were from this region. Over half of the foreign born from Africa in three states—Minnesota, Nevada, and Washington—were from Eastern Africa. Minnesota's Eastern African born represented 61 percent of its African-born population, over double the national percentage and included a Somali-born population of 21,000. Florida and New Jersey (each 33 percent) and Iowa (30 percent) were among the states with the highest percentage of their African-born populations from Northern Africa. California's large Egyptian-born population (31,000) contributed to its Northern African representation (29 percent), notably higher than the national percentage (17 percent).

The states with the highest percentage foreign born from Africa in their foreign-born populations included North Dakota and Minnesota (both 19 percent), South Dakota (17 percent), Maryland and the District of Columbia (both 15 percent) (Figure 3). Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, and New Mexico each had less than 2 percent foreign born from Africa in their foreign-born populations. Of the ten states with the largest African-born populations, five had percentages of African born in their foreign-born populations that were at least twice the national percentage: Minnesota (19 percent), Maryland (15 percent), Virginia (9 percent), and Georgia and Massachusetts (both 8 percent).

Distribution by Metropolitan Statistical Area

Metropolitan areas with the largest African-born population included New York, NY (212,000); Washington, DC (161,000); Atlanta, GA (68,000); Los Angeles, CA (68,000); and Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN (64,000) (Table 3). In addition to having a high number of African born, the percentage of the foreign-born population from Africa in the Washington, DC, metro area (13 percent) was more than three times the national percentage (4 percent), and Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN (20 percent), was five times the national percentage.

In several metropolitan areas with relatively small African-born populations, the African born nevertheless represented a high proportion of the total foreign born. These included Columbus, OH (23 percent); Baltimore, MD (13 percent); and Providence, RI (11 percent), with between 20,000 and 35,000 African foreign born. Most metropolitan areas with a high percentage of African born in their foreign-born populations were in the Midwest and Northeast regions in states such as Minnesota, Ohio, and Maine (Figure 4). It is notable that in many metropolitan areas in the western half of the country, the concentrations of African born were well below the national average. These included Los Angeles (1.5 percent), San Francisco (1.8 percent), and San Diego (2.2 percent).

With the exception of Nigeria, there was considerable variation in the top countries of birth in metropolitan areas with the largest African-born populations (Figure 5). For example, both Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston showed large numbers of Nigerians and Ethiopians. Chicago, Columbus, and New York had significant Ghanaian populations, while foreign born from Cabo Verde figured prominently in Boston and Providence (half of the African born in Providence). The largest African-origin countries for Washington, DC, were Ethiopia and Nigeria. The largest African-born populations in Minneapolis-St. Paul were from Somalia and Ethiopia. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, leading African countries of birth included Egypt, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. The largest African-origin countries in the New York metropolitan area were Egypt and Ghana, each composing just under 20 percent of the total African born.

Educational Attainment

Compared with the overall foreign- born population, the foreign born from Africa had higher levels of educational attainment (Figure 6). High levels of educational attainment among the African born are in part due to the large number of educated Africans who have chosen to emigrate and to many who come to the United States to pursue academic studies. Forty-one percent of the African-born population had a bachelor's degree or higher in 2008-2012, compared with 28 percent of the overall foreign born. Egypt (64 percent) and Nigeria (61 percent) were among the African countries of birth with the highest proportion of bachelor's and higher degrees.

Nearly one-third of the overall foreign-born population (32 percent) had less than a high school education. This contrasts with only 12 percent for the African-born population, as represented by such countries as South Africa (3 percent), Nigeria (4 percent), and Egypt and Kenya (each 5 percent).

The difference in educational attainment among the populations from different African countries in part reflects how they immigrated to the United States. A relatively high proportion of immigrants from Africa entered the United States on diversity visas (24 percent as compared with 5 percent of the overall foreign born), which require a high school diploma or equivalent work experience. The foreign born from Somalia, who mostly entered the United States as refugees or asylees (82 percent in 2010), not as diversity migrants (1 percent in 2010), were an exception to this overall pattern. Forty percent of the Somali born had less than a high school education.


The foreign-born population from Africa is small relative to other foreign-born groups, but has experienced rapid growth in the last 40 years. Among the African- born population, the majority were born in Western Africa (36 percent), Eastern Africa (29 percent), or Northern Africa (17 percent). While traditional immigrant destinations such as New York and California have attracted the largest number of African immigrants, they account for a relatively small percentage of the total foreign born in those states. Higher concentrations of the African born in a state's total foreign-born population are instead found in North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Compared with the overall foreign-born population, a higher proportion of African born have completed a bachelor's degree or higher level of education.

What is the American Community Survey?

The American Community Survey (ACS) is a nationwide survey designed to provide communities with reliable and timely demographic, social, economic, and housing data for the nation, states, congressional districts, counties, places, and other localities every year. It has an annual sample size of about 3.5 million addresses across the United States and Puerto Rico and includes both housing units and group quarters (e.g., nursing facilities and prisons). The 5-year file of the ACS is designed to provide reliable statistics for small populations and small geographical areas of the United States. For information on the ACS sample design and other topics, visit <

African-Born Population by Metropolitan Statistical Area: 2008-2012

Top Twenty Metropolitan Areas

Area						African born

United States                                   1,581,970

New York-Northern New Jersey-
Long Island                                       211,735
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria                   160,820
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta                     67,770
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana                   67,505
Minneapolis-St Paul-Bloomington                    63,885
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington                        60,905
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy                            59,985
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown                         50,380
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington                     47,580
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville                          42,510
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue                            38,735
Baltimore-Towson                                   31,065
Columbus                                           29,000
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont                      23,205
Providence-New Bedford-Fall River                  22,410
Denver-Aurora-Broomfield                           20,460
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach                20,335
Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale                              17,125
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos                      15,980
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario                   14,740

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2008-2012 American Community Survey, 5-year estimates, Supplemental Table 3 to Brief cited above.

Ten Largest African-Born Countries of Birth in the United States, 2008-2012

Nigeria                                         221,075
Ethiopia                                        164,045
Egypt                                           143,085
Ghana                                           120,785
Kenya                                            95,125
South Africa                                     83,300
Somalia                                          76,205
Liberia                                          71,060
Morocco                                          58,730
Sudan(including South Sudan)                     41,070

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2008-2012 American Community Survey, 5-year estimates, Supplemental Table 2 to Brief cited above.

Migration Population Institute, Diaspora Profiles - direct URL:

There is much additional data about several African immigrant populations in a series of fact sheets published by the Migration Policy Institute in July 2014, drawing on data for 2013.. The African countries included in this series are Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, and Nigeria. Although these cannot be excerpted here for copyright reasons, they are downloadable from the MPI site and can be used for personal reading and research.

Some quick highlights from each of these:

(1) Egypt: Including first and second generation, there are approximately 240,000 Egyptian immigrants and their children in the United States. Although this group has high educational attainment, there is also extreme inequality, with one in six having incomes above $140,000 while 23 percent live below the poverty line.

(2) Ethiopia: There are approximately 255,000 Ethiopian immigrants, including children born here. This has grown from a small base of about 10,000 in 1980. Nearly half are U.S. Citizens. The largest concentration is in the Washington, DC area, with significant representation as well in Minneapolis, Seattle, and Atlanta.

(3) Ghana: Approximately 235,000 Ghanaian immigrants and their American-born children live in the United States. The majority have arrived since the year 2000. They are widely distributed around the United States, with the largest concentrations in the areas of New York City and Washington, DC. The United States is the second most common destination for Ghanaian immigrants.

(4) Kenya: There are approximately 105,000 Kenyan immigrants and their children living in the United States, about 10% of whom are of Somali ethnic origin. The highest numbers are in Texas and California, with Dallas the city with the largest number of Kenyan residents.

(5) Morocco: There are approximately 85,000 Moroccan immigrants and their children, and is widely scattered around the country. The largest numbers are in New York City and surroundings.

(6) Nigeria: There are approximately 380,000 Nigerian immigrants and their children living in the United States, up from approximately 25,000 in 1980. The largest numbers are in the areas of New York City, Houston, and Washington, DC.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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