January 24, 2018

Key facts about black immigrants in the U.S.

The United States has long had a sizable black population because of the transatlantic slave trade beginning in the 16th century. But significant voluntary black migration is a relatively new development – and one that has increased rapidly over the past two decades. Here’s a closer look at the small, yet growing, black immigrant population in the U.S.:

1The black immigrant population has increased fivefold since 1980. There were 4.2 million black immigrants living in the U.S. in 2016, up from just 816,000 in 1980, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Since 2000 alone, the number of black immigrants living in the country has risen 71%. Now, roughly one-in-ten blacks (9%) living in the U.S. are foreign born, according to 2016 American Community Survey data, up from 3% in 1980. (Immigrants make up 10% of the black population in the March 2016 Current Population Survey.)

2Much of the recent growth in the foreign-born black population has been fueled by African migration. Between 2000 and 2016, the black African immigrant population more than doubled, from 574,000 to 1.6 million. Africans now make up 39% of the overall foreign-born black population, up from 24% in 2000. Still, roughly half of all foreign-born blacks living in the U.S. in 2016 (49%) were from the Caribbean, with Jamaica and Haiti being the largest source countries.

3When compared with other immigrant groups, blacks are more likely to be U.S. citizens or to be proficient English speakers. Roughly six-in-ten foreign-born blacks (58%) are U.S. citizens, compared with 49% of immigrants overall. And given that many black immigrants are from English-speaking nations, black immigrants ages 5 and older are also more likely than the overall immigrant population to be proficient English speakers (74% vs. 51%).

4There were 619,000 unauthorized black immigrants living in the U.S. in 2015, accounting for 15% of foreign-born blacks, according to Pew Research Center estimates. By comparison, 24% of the overall immigrant population is unauthorized.

5Overall, black immigrants (28%) are somewhat less likely than the overall U.S. population (31%) to have a college degree or more, but black immigrants from Africa are more likely than Americans overall to have a college degree or higher. But educational attainment varies widely by country of origin. For example, 59% of foreign-born blacks from Nigeria have a bachelor’s or advanced degree – a share that is roughly double that of the overall population. By comparison, just 10% of black immigrants from Somalia have earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

6In 2016, 8% of blacks were second-generation Americans – meaning they were born in the U.S. but have at least one foreign-born parent, according to the Center’s analysis of the Census Bureau’s 2016 Current Population Survey. In total, black immigrants and their children make up roughly one-fifth (18%) of the overall black population in the U.S.

Topics: Global Migration and Demography, Immigration, Race and Ethnicity

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

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

  2. is a research analyst focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.