February 14, 2017

African immigrant population in U.S. steadily climbs

African immigrants make up a small share of the nation’s immigrant population, but their overall numbers are growing – roughly doubling every decade since 1970, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

There were 2.1 million African immigrants living in the United States in 2015, up from 881,000 in 2000 and a substantial increase from 1970 when the U.S. was home to only 80,000 foreign-born Africans. They accounted for 4.8% of the U.S. immigrant population in 2015, up from 0.8% in 1970.

The growth is evident among recently arrived immigrants. When compared with other major groups who arrived in the U.S. in the past five years, Africans had the fastest growth rate from 2000 to 2013, increasing by 41% during that period. (Africans are also a fast-growing segment of the black immigrant population in the U.S., increasing by 137% from 2000 to 2013.)

The transatlantic slave trade beginning in the 16th century brought hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans to the U.S., but significant voluntary migration from Africa is a relatively new trend. 

One factor behind this recent wave can be traced to the Refugee Act of 1980, which made it easier for those fleeing conflict-ridden areas, like Somalia and Ethiopia, to resettle in the U.S. Back then, less than 1% of all refugee arrivals were from Africa, compared with 37% in fiscal 2016, according to figures from the U.S. State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. Statistics from the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics confirm this point. Among the top 10 countries by refugee arrival in 2015, four were in Africa: Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Eritrea. (The data in this analysis predates executive action on immigration in early 2017.)

African immigrants from the sub-Saharan region are also more likely than immigrants overall to enter the U.S. through the diversity visa program – an act passed in 1990 to encourage immigration from underrepresented nations. This legislation was initially intended to boost the number of Europeans migrating to the U.S., but many Africans have also benefited from the initiative.

Foreign-born Africans come from all over the continent, but the largest countries of origin for African immigrants are Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana and Kenya. These five countries accounted for half of the foreign-born African population in the U.S in 2o15.

African immigrants to the U.S. are more likely to settle in the South (39%) or the Northeast (25%), than in the Midwest (18%) or West (17%), while the largest numbers of African immigrants are found in Texas, New York, California, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia. Each of these states is home to at least 100,000 foreign-born Africans.

In other states, Africans represent a higher percentage of the foreign-born population than the national average. Fueled by the state’s sizable Somalian-born community, 21% of Minnesota’s foreign-born population is from Africa. Many refugees from Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia have settled in South Dakota (Ethiopians are the largest immigrant group overall there). Africans make up around 15% of South Dakota’s foreign-born population. They also account for a substantial share of the overall immigrant population in several other areas, some examples being Maryland, North Dakota, Vermont and Washington, D.C.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published Nov. 2, 2015.

Topics: Immigration, Immigration Trends, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, Migration, African Americans

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

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


  1. Coulter Woolf5 months ago

    Not sure if the influx of immigrants from Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Egypt reveals anything statistically extraordinary, those are the largest countries in Africa by population.

  2. Anonymous5 months ago

    It’s surprising that an increasing number of people emigrate from Africa to America to be oppressed and marginalized. Do they not know the history here?

  3. Anonymous5 months ago

    Given Americas history, I’m surprised and increasing number of Africans emigrate here to be oppressed and marginalized.

  4. Jane wanjiku njenga2 years ago

    Hae,am from Africa (kenya) and we are capable of doing any kinds qjob nomartter how one is educated try us and give us more chances in USA

  5. LaTrece2 years ago

    It would be interesting to know how the Africans are doing with earning income as compared to other immigrants, to explore the impact of racism on foreign born Africans and African Americans. Is there experience the same or different and why?

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      I want to know this as well. I can tell that there is definitely a significant difference in how African immigrants are treated compared to Mexican immigrants (which I used that country from the Americas, because there are more of them here than any other immigrant and Latin country). I also want to know why many Africans aren’t settling in Chicago or the state of Illinois period. There are many Africans in Chicago, especially on the Northside. It’s a nice place to live, and filled with much Black (African) culture.

  6. Mark2 years ago

    This is happening while people in richer countries choose not to breed. This kind of racial imbalance is going to blend all humans into a single color. So much for liberal diversity.

  7. NursieGal2 years ago

    Nearly 80% of all new hires where I work, and 4 other nurses I know (in different jobs/states) are African, mainly Nigerian. I also know MANY American nurses now struggling to find work – and at lower pay, now.

    1. John Locke2 years ago

      Immigration should be tied to unemployment. As I see it, we need exactly zero new immigrants.

      1. Advocate2 years ago

        As I see it, Americans are lazy. If immigrants are will to do work that we simply dont take seriously then more power to them. They may be immigrants but thier work ethic is far better than your or your fellow nurses will ever be.

    2. Anonymous5 months ago

      If don’t see from afar people don’t know what to say…I’m for everyone logically a and fairly..The wool has been lowered…

  8. Jack2 years ago

    First, one might shed a tear for the established American black population because they will be impacted the most by this, especially the underclass. The pie and society’s patience can only be sliced so many ways. 2nd Obama has been on a mission to sink the American lifeboat and everyone in that boat, including blacks, will sink with it. My surmise is he expects to be long gone before that happens (Kenya or Indonesia). I know, I know, but just wait and see like you did waiting for hope and change. I’ll take no joy in being right because I love my grand kids and the USA.

  9. Bernard Wijeyasingha2 years ago

    Unlike the American Black population, Africans are not effected by the history of slavery. They do not carry that baggage and are enslaved by it. African immigrants like any others, come here with a open mind, to prosper. Maybe they would have an influence on the American black population, which is one of the most affluent communities in the world, to leave the legacy of slavery out of politics, and reach for a better future.

    1. Zudie2 years ago

      Your coded language is condescending and fallacious. Why would you assume that American blacks have no desire to prosper? That’s a gross generalization.

      Contrary to what you want to believe, we are not ashamed of our past or that “baggage” to which you refer. Many of us are well-educated and productive. With pride, I can say that American blacks literally built this country. The rights which resulted from our collective struggle have paved the way for immigrants of African descent–and other places around the globe–to seek jobs and educations in the United States. Save the snide remarks, Bernard.

      1. Kalle2 years ago

        Are you not aware that there is a greater prejudice that African immigrants feel is coming from African Americans rather than any other american racial group.
        If not, than you should speak about it with the next cab driver from Ghana, Senigal, Mali, Ethiopia and ect. All hard working people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families in the United States.

        1. Anonymous5 months ago

          This is so true!

        2. Anonymous5 months ago

          Ohhhh come on now…. you complain about how African Americans feel about Africans… If we are going to air our dirty laundry in the public… lets also talk about how African treat themselves… You guys discriminate against yourselves… Tribalism is rampant all over Africa… You guys treat white people as if they are sent from God while treating your own brother like trash… I have seen it in Africa with my own eyes…Men and women in Africa use harsh chemicals to lighten their color of their skin which is a blatant form of self hatred.. I love my brothers and sisters from Africa. My people ( African Americans ) have no historical or cultural reference to Africa. Only what white society have showed them through movies like ( blood diamond, tears of the sun, the last king of scottland…. etc ). The news outlets in the usa is no different..

          So enough with the African American bashing.. We all have problems we need to work out and we need to do it together..

          1. Anonymous5 months ago

            Nice article but it doesn’t tell what they do
            How do they adjust in the US.

      2. Anonymous5 months ago

        Thank you.

  10. Jon2 years ago

    in case the moderators and readers are wondering why they have been bombarded with a lot of xenophobic and hate comments, this article was posted on drudgereport with the title “1 in 3 refugees are from Africa”

    1. Joe2 years ago

      Is that not a factual title?

    2. chicago8602 years ago

      What’s your point?

    3. Goodgolden2 years ago

      And your point is???

  11. T Tannin2 years ago

    What?? Don’t they know that the US is the most horribly racist country in the whole wide universe?

  12. Deborah Pierce2 years ago

    I cannot help but ask,Will there be wars from factions caused by certain groups being immigrated together, the genuine, appreciative ones trying to escape discrimination and war, and those disengenuous oportunists who lie and cause trouble for those who do not? Many terrorists have promised to infiltrate though the borders, and yet, who speaks their languages and knows what they are about? There are some that cannot, will not, desire not to assimilate to american values. Laws that respect all as equal under it, laws that guarantee freedom like speech, worship, prayer and laws that protect one’s own private property against collectivism are important here. People are coming with wierd views that are far less christian, far less diverse, far less forgiving of others. Some are fascist by definition because of their extreme exclusivity and punishment of those within who do not conform to their “norms”. Some are just as “fascist” as those melded antiamerican groups today, attacking and boycotting christians, demanding a person goes to jail for not making them cake? I hope we are not in for more “transformations” like that, ones we lose sleep and security over.

  13. John Locke2 years ago

    Are there any sane people in power that question whether or not this will benefit the American people? I know the answer and they should too.

  14. usamomof32 years ago

    How do they accurately count “immigrants” when our borders are wide open? How can you possibly account for the thousands upon thousands of people illegally entering the country? Until we have a system that screens people as they enter, these kinds of studies and reports are useless.

    1. neal kelley5 months ago

      do you really think our borders are wide open… have you ever traveled internationally and returned to the USA..?

  15. Duke Nukem2 years ago

    “Out of deference to the critics, I want to comment on … what the bill will not do. First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same … Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset … Contrary to the charges in some quarters, S.500 will not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area, or the most populated and economically deprived nations of Africa and Asia. In the final analysis, the ethnic pattern of immigration under the proposed measure is not expected to change as sharply as the critics seem to think. Thirdly, the bill will not permit the entry of subversive persons, criminals, illiterates, or those with contagious disease or serious mental illness. As I noted a moment ago, no immigrant visa will be issued to a person who is likely to become a public charge … the charges I have mentioned are highly emotional, irrational, and with little foundation in fact. They are out of line with the obligations of responsible citizenship. They breed hate of our heritage.”(Senate Part 1, Book 1, pp. 1-3) — Senator Edward Kennedy on the 1965 Immigration Act

    Democrats Force U.S. TaxPayers to Fund Illegal Alien Welfare


    1. mitch2 years ago

      Sounds like propaganda to me.
      This is a treasonous and seditious act and is NOT to the benefit of Americans. Nothing our Govt does is EVER to the benefit of her citizens. This only benefits big business by providing cheap wages. The purpose is to break the middle class and create an even larger, dependent class of poor who are easily controlled and forced to vote for more goodies from the public trough ie Democrat.

    2. John Locke2 years ago

      Gee is that you Ted Kennedy? I thought you had died some years back. We lost JFK, who would be a conservative now, and got stuck with you. All of the huge legislation that is destructive is sold to the people with lies. The Hart-Cellar Act was one of the worst last century. Actually, it was the worst and none talk about getting rid of it. We are no longer an agrarian society that needs millions of low-skill laborers.

  16. Bill2 years ago

    Pew research will only allow posts that are politically correct. They will never allow people to speak their mind. Only if people say they are thrilled with the fundamental transformation of America will Pew ever allow the comment to be posted.

    1. Bob Suyak2 years ago

      You are 100% right, can’t even use sarcasm. They are part of the PC madness.

      1. Coras2 years ago

        Its not PC madness. This is intentional.

  17. Joe2 years ago

    Way past time to stop all immigration both legal and illegal for at least 10 years, deport who we can deport and mandate assimilation or forced deportation!!!

  18. KC2 years ago

    Will this change the dynamic of affirmative action based on race? Right or wrong, the justification for race based affirmative action has always been the result of historical and institutional prejudices against the descendants of slaves. Neither of these justifications apply to newly arrived African immigrants.

    1. Wayne Dorniels2 years ago

      No, it won’t change anything. The welfare state will continue to grow.

      Even when “Whites” are in the minority, they will still be treated like they’re the majority, and non-whites in the majority will still be treated as if they’re the minority. They already have a term for it ready to go, it’s called “Minority Majority”.

      1. Anonymous1 year ago

        We are all immigrant except the “native Americans.” We have rob, pillage, and forcefully take their Godly endowed land from them. God will judge!

    2. Anonymous5 months ago

      Their color is the determining factor – not country of origin!