April 9, 2015

6 key findings about black immigration to the U.S.

Black immigrants make up a small but growing segment of the U.S. black population. Although the United States has long had a sizable black population as a legacy of slavery, voluntary black immigration to the U.S. is a relatively new development and is projected to grow in the coming decades. A new Pew Research Center report examines this trend and provides a statistical portrait of the nation’s black immigrant population.

Here are six key findings about the foreign-born black population in the U.S.

Caribbean Is Top Birth Region; African Immigration Soared Since 20001The black immigrant population has more than quadrupled since 1980. Only around 800,000 blacks were foreign-born in that year, and by 2013 the number had climbed to 3.8 million, according to a Pew Research analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Immigrants are also making up a larger share of the overall black population – 8.7% of blacks were foreign-born in 2013, a share that is projected to almost double by 2060.

2The number of black immigrants from African nations has rapidly grown. Between 2000 and 2013, the black African immigrant population grew from 570,000 to 1.4 million, an increase of 137%. Africans make up 36% of the overall foreign-born black population, up from 24% in 2000. Still, half of all black immigrants were born in the Caribbean, with Jamaica and Haiti being the two largest birth countries, accounting for 18% and 15% of black immigrants, respectively.

3Black immigrants make up a double-digit share of the overall black population in some large metro areas.  In 2013, about one-in-three blacks (34%) living in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area in Florida were immigrants. In the New York-Newark-Jersey City metro area, foreign-born blacks made up 28% of the black population. And in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, 15% of the area’s blacks were foreign-born.

4When compared with U.S. immigrants overall, foreign-born blacks are less likely to be in the U.S. illegally, more likely to be U.S. citizens and more likely to speak English at a higher rate. About 575,000 black immigrants were living in the U.S. without authorization in 2012, accounting for 16% of all black immigrants, according to Pew Research Center estimates. By comparison, about a quarter of the nation’s 42.5 million immigrants have an unauthorized status. Black immigrants are also more likely to be U.S. citizens than immigrants overall (54% versus 47%). And given that many black immigrants are from English-speaking Caribbean nations, 74% of those ages 5 and older are proficient in English, compared with 50% of all immigrants.

One-third of Black Immigrants from Africa Have a College Degree, a Higher Share than Among the U.S. Population5Overall, black immigrants earn college degrees at a slightly lower rate than Americans in general, but the share of foreign-born blacks from Africa with a college degree is higher than that of the overall U.S. population. About one-quarter (26%) of foreign-born blacks ages 25 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013, which falls somewhat below that of the overall U.S. population, at 30%. However, black immigrants ages 25 and older from Africa have high levels of educational attainment – 35% have a college degree, a higher share than Americans overall.

6There are some distinct differences between U.S.- and foreign-born blacks when it came to age, education, marriage and income. In comparison with U.S.-born blacks, foreign-born blacks are older, with a median age of 42 versus 29 for U.S.-born blacks, according to 2013 figures. Among those 25 and older, a higher share of immigrant blacks have a bachelor’s degree or higher (26% vs. 19%). They’re also much more likely to be married – nearly half (48%) of black immigrants ages 18 and older were married in 2013, compared with 28% of U.S.-born blacks, a difference that may be tied to the foreign-born blacks’ higher median age. Black immigrants are in general faring better economically than blacks born in the U.S.  Household incomes for foreign-born blacks are on average $10,000 higher than U.S.-born blacks, and black immigrants are less likely to live in poverty (20% vs. 28%).

Topics: Immigration, Race and Ethnicity, Population Trends, African Americans

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

    is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.


  1. AT2 years ago

    I am not so much worry about brain drain in many African countries. The fact is this: People never move unless they have to. Immigration is a bold step in many ways and it takes lots of guts to leave everything behind. Another fact is that most of these young people leave their countries because unemployment is high, corruption is rampant and there is lack of opportunities for the graduates but less privileged. Many of us here are willing to go back and invest in our home countries, however unless you’ve accumulated lots of wealth, the risky business environment in many African countries will wipe out your investment in a short term. African countries need leaders that value the manpower and know-how of its diaspora, and understand that the diaspora’s contribution to the overall development of their countries CANNOT be underestimated. Ghana and Senegal are good examples to follow.

  2. Florence F.2 years ago

    It’s interesting to see the results of this study! As a foreign born black from Africa, I totally concur with the results. The reality is that Africa is suffering from a brain drain as many who are educated and want to achieve a better life for their children have emigrated from the motherland.

    It would be interesting to track this data in ten years especially if things change in Africa. It would also be interesting to find out how our children (US born Africans) stack up against us (foreign born Africans) when it comes to education, marriage, and income.

    Thanks for your work!

  3. Earl DePass Jr.2 years ago

    Interesting and rich demographic information. I wish the Intermarriage rates between foreign born Blacks born, native Blacks, and other groups, were included in the report. I guess this is of self interest though because my children come from a long line of Afro-Caribbean, native Black American, and continental African unions.

    1. kwame zulu shabazz2 years ago

      Fascinating. I hope you will document this somehow. Perhaps a book or, even better, a film.