Harsh Reality of Immigration in the US

African Immigrants in the US

While watching Africa Straight Up I was excited to see people who were trying to challenge the conversation about Africa as depicted in Western Media. However, something also concerned me. Some of the Africans they chose to champion their cause are Africans living abroad in the North America and in Europe.

If I was watching this video as a European or American I would have to ask, “If Africa is so great, why are you in New York or London?” I believe there is a disconnect.  The true champions of changing perceptions about Africa are people who are actually in the trenches and know just how good or bad their society is.

An African who last lived in their native country more than 10 years ago does not have much credibility in my book. Just a thought.

Immigrants and Education

Black Immigrants in the United States have the highest rates of educational attainment  and employment among all immigration groups. This means they are the immigrant group with the most formal education which is probably the most under reported statistic since most Westerners would probably pick Asians because of the stereotypes associated with this group. In 2007, 75% of Black African Immigrants aged 18 to 64 were employed versus 71% of immigrants overall and 72% of US-born adults. In 2007 Black African Women had an employment rate of 68%, which was 8% higher than for all immigrant women except from countries with large Muslim populations.

However, when one compares educational attainment with earnings, there is a disconnect. Data from 2007 shows that median annual earnings for Black Immigrants were $27,000 which is about 20 percent below the median for US-born workers ($33,000). This in spite of the fact that African Immigrants have substantially more education than US-born workers. The continent of Africa as a whole has experienced massive brain drain over the last 25 years and will continue to even when immigrants do not always receive credit for their work in the countries they migrate to.

Most Black African Immigrants are underemployment even when they have high skills or credentials. In 2009 more than a third of immigrants with a bachelor’s degree from abroad were working in unskilled jobs. The data shows however that the longer they stay particularly ten years or more and obtain US citizenship they are more likely to be employed in jobs reflecting their education and skill level. Is this ten years that the continent loses that could have benefited most of our struggling economies. In addition, immigrants from Africa tend to be more fluent in English therefore increasing their job prospects. Based on the data from many surveys, it is clear that underemployment occurs because of difficulties in translating credentials and racial discrimination in the US Labor market. Immigrants from Anglophone countries e.g. Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe with a bachelor’s degree or more are more likely to hold skilled jobs.

Even though the prospect of living in a Western country is very enticing, how much do Africans lose in earning potential when they migrate? After most Africans migrate to the US, Europe and Australia they are less likely to ever make a meaningful contribution to the growth and development of their native country. What can Africa do to retain more talent while offering its citizens the opportunity to live a middle class lifestyle? It is after all the number one reason that most people leave their home country.

By Lillian Mhosva 2012

Some data courtesy of the Migration Policy Institute


  1. Unitl there are enough opportunities and respected property rights people will be forced to emigrate to the west even if they are not paid according to their skills in the west.

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