On average, African immigrants are better educated than people born in the U.S. or the immigrant population as a whole.
Lots of the news from sub-Saharan Africa is about war, famine, poverty or political upheaval. So it’s understandable if many Americans think most Africans who immigrate to the United States are poorly educated and desperate.
Research tells another story.
While many are refugees, large numbers are beneficiaries of the diversity-visa program aimed at boosting immigration from underrepresented nations. And on average, African immigrants are better educated than people born in the U.S. or the immigrant population as a whole.
“It’s a population that’s very diverse in its educational, economic and English proficiency profile,” said Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., and co-author of a report last year on sub-Saharan African immigrants in the U.S.
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Overall, their numbers are small compared with other immigrant groups but have risen significantly in recent years. The U.S. immigrant population from sub-Saharan Africa (49 countries with a total population of more than 1.1 billion) grew from 723,000 to more than 1.7 million between 2010 and 2015, according to a new report by New American Economy, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group. Still, they make up just half a percent of the U.S. population.
About 22 percent of African immigrants are refugees, according to Andrew Lim, associate director of research at New American Economy.
At the same time, the diversity-visa program — also known as the visa lottery — has opened the door to immigrants from more peaceful places. Of the sub-Saharan immigrants who have become legal permanent residents, 17 percent came through the program, compared with 5 percent of the total U.S. immigrant population, according to Batalova.
Applicants to the program must have completed the equivalent of a U.S. high-school education or have at least two years of recent experience in any number of occupations, including accountant, computer-support specialist, orthodontist or dancer.
Batalova’s research found that of the 1.4 million who are 25 or older, 41 percent have bachelor’s degrees, compared with 30 percent of all immigrants and 32 percent of the U.S.-born population. Of the 19,000 U.S. immigrants from Norway — a country President Donald Trump reportedly told lawmakers is a good source of immigrants — 38 percent have college educations.
The New American Economy study found that one in three of these undergraduate degrees were focused on science, technology, engineering and math: “training heavily in demand by today’s employers.”
That report also found that African immigrants were significantly more likely to have graduate degrees. Sixteen percent had master’s degrees, medical degrees, law degrees or doctorates, compared with 11 percent of the U.S.-born population, Lim said.
African immigrants were more than twice as likely as the U.S. population overall to work in health care, Lim said. There are more than 32,500 nursing, psychiatric or home health aides, more than 46,000 registered nurses and more than 15,700 doctors and surgeons.
“Overwhelmingly the evidence shows that (African immigrants) make a significant, positive economic contribution to the U.S. economy,” both at a national level and in districts where they are concentrated, Lim said. “They contribute more than $10.1 billion in federal taxes, $4.7 billion in state and local taxes, and most importantly, they have significant economic clout to the point of $40.3 billion in spending power.”
That $40.3 billion pays for housing, transportation, consumer goods and education for their children — “things that actually stimulate the economy around them,” Lim said.
The biggest beneficiary is Texas, where their spending power is $4.7 billion, followed by California, Maryland, New York and Georgia.
“It’s a population that leverages its human resources and contributes to the U.S. economy by revitalizing communities, starting businesses, but also by working in a variety of professional fields,” Batalova said.