African immigration to the United States

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African immigrants to the United States
Total population
African : 3,183,104 (Subsaharan African: 2,847,199 + North African: 335,895) (2010 US Census) [1]
Regions with significant populations
Washington, D.C., New York, Maryland, California, Miami, Minneapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Houston
English (African English, American English), Arabic, Igbo, Yoruba, Akan, Lingala, French, Wolof, Swahili, Amharic, Somali, Tigrinya, Berber, Afrikaans, Hausa, Portuguese, Cape Verdean Crioulo, Spanish, others
Related ethnic groups
other African people

African immigration to the United States refers to immigrants to the United States who are or were nationals of modern African countries. The term African in the scope of this article refers to geographical or national origins rather than racial affiliation. Between the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and 2007, an estimated total of 0.8 to 0.9 million Africans immigrated to the United States, accounting for roughly 3.3% of all total U.S. immigrants during this period.[2]

African immigrants in the United States come from almost all regions in Africa and do not constitute a homogeneous group. They include peoples from different national, linguistic, ethnic, racial, cultural and social backgrounds.[3] As such, African immigrants are distinct from African Americans, many of whose ancestors were involuntarily brought from West Africa to the United States by means of the historic Atlantic slave trade.

Immigration legislation


In the 1870s, the Naturalization Act was extended to allow "aliens, being free white persons and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent" to acquire citizenship. Immigration from Africa was theoretically permitted, unlike non-white immigration from Asia.

Quotas enacted between 1921 and 1924

Several laws enforcing national origins quotas on American immigration were enacted between 1921 and 1924 and were in effect until they were repealed in 1965. While the laws were aimed at restricting the immigration of Jews and Catholics from Central and Eastern Europe and immigration from Asia, they also impacted African immigrants. The legislation effectively excluded Africans from entering the country.

The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 restricted immigration from a given country to 3% of the number of people from that country living in the US according to the census of 1910. The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, reduced that to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the US in 1890. Under the system, the quota for immigrants from Africa (excluding Egypt) totaled 1,100. (The number was increased to 1,400 under the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act.) [4] That contrasted to immigrants from Germany, which had a limit of 51,227.[5]

Repeal of quotas

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Cellar Act) repealed the national quotas and subsequently there was a substantial increase in the number of immigrants from "developing" countries, particularly in Africa and Asia. This act also provided a separate category for refugees. The act also provided greater opportunity for family reunification.

Diversity Immigrant Visa

The Diversity Visa Program, or green card lottery, is a program created by the Immigration Act of 1990. It allows people born in countries with low rates of immigration to the United States to obtain a lawful permanent resident status. Each year, 50 000 of those visas are distributed at random. Almost 38% of those visas were attributed to African born immigrants in 2016.[6] African born persons also represent the most numerous group among the applicants since 2013.[7] The application is free of charge, and the requirements in terms of education are either a high school diploma or two years of a professional experience requiring at least two years of training.

President Trump has declared his desire to end this program. This would strongly change the migration patterns of African born to the United States.[8]

Recent Migration Trends and Factors

African Immigration to the US by Broad Class of Admission

The continent of Africa has seen many changes in migrations patterns over the course of history.[9] The graph below shows African immigration to the United States in 2016 based on class of admission with numbers from the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook.[10]

The influx of African immigrants began in the latter part of the 20th century and is often referred to as the "fourth great migration." About three-fourths of all out-migration from Africa went to the United States after 1990.[7] This trend began after decolonization, as many Africans came to the US seeking an education and to escape poverty, and has risen steadily over time. Originally, these immigrants came with the sole purpose of advancing themselves before returning to their respective countries. Nevertheless, many immigrants never return. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of African immigrants interested in gaining permanent residence in the US. This has led to a severe brain drain on the economies of African countries due to many skilled hard working Africans leaving Africa to seek their economic fortunes in the US mainly and elsewhere.

One major factor that contributes to migration from Africa to the United States is labor opportunities. It has been relatively easier for African immigrants for Africans with advanced education to leave and enter international labor markets. In addition, many Africans come to the United States for advanced training. For example, doctors from different African nations would come to America in order to gain more economic opportunities compared to their home country.[14] However, as more Africans emigrate to the United States, their reasoning and factors tend to become more complex.[15]

Many Africans who migrate to the United States return their income to Africa in the source of remittances. In Nigeria, for example, remittances (link) from Nigerian immigrants in the United States to Nigeria totaled to $6.1 billion in 2012, approximately 3% of Nigeria’s GDP.[11] The important role of remittances in improving the lives of family members in the United States has led to both migration and migrants remaining in the United States.

Following educational and economic trends of migration, family reunification has driven recent trends of migration. Family reunification refers to the ability of U.S. Citizens to sponsor family members for immigration. Sponsoring immediate family members and other family preferences led to 45% and 10% of all African immigration in 2016 respectively.[12] Legal service organizations such as the African Advocacy Network aid in family members sponsoring new immigrants to the United States.[13]

Additionally, refugees make up a large class of admission to the United States. Recent crises in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Burundi have been sources of migrants in recent years.[14] With recent restrictions on refugee entrance to the United States, refugees may face a harder time entering the United States.


African immigrants' (US) ancestries in the 2000[15] – 2010[16] American Community Survey (from more than 1,000 people)
Ancestry 2000 2000 (% of US population) 2010 2010 (% of US population)
Flag of Nigeria.svg Nigerian 162,938[15] negligible (no data) 264,550[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of Egypt.svg Egyptian 142,832[15] negligible (no data) 197,000[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of Cape Verde.svg Cape Verdean 77,103[15] negligible (no data) 95,003[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of Ethiopia.svg Ethiopian 68,001[15] negligible (no data) 202,715[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of Ghana.svg Ghanaian 49,944[15] negligible (no data) 91,322[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of South Africa.svg South African 44,991[15] negligible (no data) 57,491[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of Morocco.svg Moroccan 38,923[15] negligible (no data) 82,073[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of Somalia.svg Somali 36,313[15] negligible (no data) 120,102[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of Eritrea.svg Eritrean 18,917[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
Flag of Kenya.svg Kenyan 17,336[15] negligible (no data) 51,749[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of Sudan.svg Sudanese 14,458[15] negligible (no data) 42,249[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of Sierra Leone.svg Sierra Leonean 12,410[15] negligible (no data) 16,929[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of Algeria.svg Algerian 8,752[15] negligible (no data) 14,716[17] negligible (no data)
Flag of Cameroon.svg Cameroonian 8,099[15] negligible (no data) 16,894[18] negligible (no data)
Flag of Senegal.svg Senegalese 6,124[15] negligible (no data) 11,369[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.svg Flag of the Republic of the Congo.svg Congolese More than 5,488[15] negligible (no data) 11,009[18] negligible (no data)
Flag of Tunisia.svg Tunisian 4,735[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
Flag of Uganda.svg Ugandan 4,707[15] negligible (no data) 12,549 negligible (no data)
Flag of Zimbabwe.svg Zimbabwean 4,521[15] negligible (no data) 7,323[16] negligible (no data)
Flag of Côte d'Ivoire.svg Ivorian 3,110[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
Flag of The Gambia.svg Gambian 3,035[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
Flag of Guinea.svg Guinea 3,016[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
Flag of Libya.svg Libyan 2,979[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
Flag of Tanzania.svg Tanzanian 2,921[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
Flag of Mali.svg Malian 1,790[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
Flag of Togo.svg Togolese 1,716[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
Flag of Angola.svg Angolan 1,642[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
Flag of Zambia.svg Zambian 1,500[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
Flag of Rwanda.svg Rwandan 1,480[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
"African" 1,183,316[15] negligible (no data) 1,676,413[16] negligible (no data)
"Western African" 6,810[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
"North African/Berber" 4,544 ("North Africans": 3,217; "Berbers": 1,327)[15] negligible (no data) negligible (no data)
TOTAL 940,000[citation needed] 0.2%[citation needed] NA NA


Metros with largest African-born population (2010 Census)
Metropolitan area African population % of total metro population
Washington, DC, MD-VA-WV 171,000 2.9
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN 70,100 1.3
Atlanta, GA 70,100 1.3
Boston, MA-NH 61,600 1.3
Baltimore Area, MD 33,100 1.2
New York, NY 223,000 1.1
Dallas–Fort Worth, TX 64,300 0.9
Houston, TX 56,100 0.9
Greater Los Angeles Area 68,100 0.5
San Francisco Bay Area 24,500 0.5

It is estimated that the current population of African immigrants to the United States is about 2.1 million.[19] According to the Migration Policy Institute, as of 2009 two-thirds of the African immigrants were from either East or West Africa.[20] Countries with the most immigrants to the US are Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa, Somalia, Eritrea, and Kenya. Seventy five percent (75%) of the African immigrants to the US come from 12 of the 55 countries, namely Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, Liberia, Somalia, Morocco, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone and Sudan (including what is now the independent country of South Sudan), which is based on the 2000 census data.[21]

Additionally, according to the US Census, 55% of immigrants from Africa are male, while 45% are female. Age groups with the largest cohort of African-born immigrants are 25–34, 35–44, and 45–54 with 24.5%, 27.9%, and 15.0% respectively.[22]

Africans typically congregate in urban areas, moving to suburban areas over time. They are also one of the least likeliest groups to live in racially segregated areas.[23][24] The goals of Africans vary tremendously. While some look to create new lives in the US, some plan on using the resources and skills gained to go back and help their countries of origin. Either way, African communities contribute millions to the economies of Africa through remittances.

Immigrants from Africa typically settle in heavily urban areas upon arrival into the US. Areas such as Washington, D.C., New York, Baltimore, Houston, Columbus, Ohio, Atlanta and Minneapolis have heavy concentrations of African immigrant populations. Often there are clusters of nationalities within these cities. The longer African immigrants live in the United States, the more likely they are to live in suburban areas.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are officially 40,000 African immigrants, although it has been estimated that the population is actually four times this number when considering undocumented immigrants. The majority of these immigrants were born in Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa.

African immigrants like many other immigrant groups are likely to establish and find success in small businesses. Many Africans that have seen the social and economic stability that comes from ethnic enclaves such as Chinatowns have recently been establishing ethnic enclaves of their own at much higher rates to reap the benefits of such communities.[25] Such examples include Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles and Little Senegal in New York City.

Educational attainment

African immigrants to the US are among the most educated groups in the United States. Some 48.9 percent of all African immigrants hold a college diploma. This is more than double the rate of native-born white Americans, and nearly four times the rate of native-born African Americans.[26] According to the 2000 Census, the rate of college diploma acquisition is highest among Egyptian Americans at 59.7 percent, followed closely by Nigerian Americans at 58.6 percent.[27][28]

In 1997, 19.4 percent of all adult African immigrants in the United States held a graduate degree, compared to 8.1 percent of adult white Americans and 3.8 percent of adult black Americans in the United States, respectively.[29] According to the 2000 Census, the percentage of Africans with a graduate degree is highest among Nigerian Americans at 28.3 percent, followed by Egyptian Americans at 23.8 percent.[27][28]

Of the African-born population in the US age 25 and older, 87.9% reported having a high school degree or higher,[30] compared with 78.8% of Asian-born immigrants and 76.8% of European-born immigrants, respectively.[31] Africans from Kenya (90.8 percent), Nigeria (89.1 percent), Ghana (85.9 percent), Botswana (84.7 percent), and Malawi (83 percent) were the most likely to report having a high school degree or higher.

Those born in Cape Verde (44.8 percent) and Mauritania (60.8 percent) were the least likely to report having completed a high school education.[32]


American immigrants from predominantly black nations in Africa and South America are generally healthier than black immigrants from predominantly white nations in Europe. A study conducted by Jen’nan Ghazal Read, a sociology professor at the UC Irvine, and Michael O. Emerson, a sociology professor at Rice University, studied the health of more than 2,900 black immigrants from top regions of emigration: the West Indies, Africa, South America and Europe. Blacks born in Africa and South America have been shown to be healthier than American born Blacks.[33][34]

The study was published in the September issue of Social Forces and is the first to look at the health of black immigrants by their region of origin.[35]


African immigrants tend to retain their culture once in the United States. Instead of abandoning their various traditions, they find ways to reproduce and reinvent themselves.[36] Cultural bonds are cultivated through shared ethnic or national affiliations. Some organizations like the Ghanaian group Fantse-Kuo and the Sudanese Association organize by country, region, or ethnic group. Other nonprofits like the Malawi Washington Association[37] organize by national identity, and are inclusive of all Malawians. Other groups present traditional culture from a pan-African perspective. Using traditional skills and knowledge, African-born entrepreneurs develop services for immigrants and the community at large. In the Washington area, events such as the annual Ethiopian soccer tournament, institutions such as the AME Church African Liberation Ministry, and "friends" and "sister cities" organizations bring together different communities. The extent to which African immigrants engage in these activities naturally varies according to the population.


The religious traditions of African immigrants tend to be pluralistic; they are seen not only as religious institutions, but in many cases also as civic centers. These organizations are central to persevering ethnic identity among these communities.[38][citation needed] African immigrant religious communities are also central networks and provide services such as counseling, shelter, employment, financial assistance, health services, and real estate tips.


African immigrants practice a diverse array of religions, including Christianity, Islam, and various traditional faiths. Of these adherents, the largest number are Pentecostals/Charismatic Christians. This form of Christianity is a "primarily evangelical, born-again Pentecostal sect that emphasizes holiness, fervent prayer, charismatic revival, proximate salvation, speaking in tongues, baptism of the Holy Spirit, faith healing, visions, and divine revelations."[38]

Among popular denominational churches are the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star, Seventh Day Adventist Church, Celestial Church of Christ, Cherubim and Seraphim, Christ Apostolic Church, Church of Pentecost, Deeper Life Bible Church, Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries (MFM), the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, the Redeemed Christian Church of God and [38][citation needed] Christ Embassy.

Additionally, Ethiopians and Eritreans have their own churches wherever there is a significant Ethiopian or Eritrean population. Their churches are mainly Ethiopian or Eritrean Orthodox and a few Catholic churches.

Continental African churches

Many African communities have created their own churches in the United States modeled on continental African churches. One example is the Bethel Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, which has a Pan-African congregation. It also conducts services in English and French. Many African churches are Pan-African, but some consist only of nationals from the country of origin. This allows for worship in the native languages of the congregation.


Muslim immigrants from nations in Africa adhere to diverse Islamic traditions. These include various Sunni, Shia and Sufi mainstream orders and schools (madhhab) from West Africa, the Swahili Coast, the Indian Ocean islands, the Horn of Africa and North Africa.

Cultural influence


Many local cable channels are now purchasing programming channels operated by various African communities. For example, Channel Africa is now available in some TV networks in the US. The channel is a showcase for outstanding travel, lifestyle and cultural series, specials and documentaries. These programs feature people of African descent and their stories.

The network's premiere on September 1, 2005, marked a milestone in US television history. For the first time, American audiences were able to experience the successes, celebrations and challenges of people living throughout Africa and the Diaspora, all via a general entertainment network. The network is broadcast in the US through national distribution deals with the largest cable MSOs in the country, including Comcast, Time Warner, and Cox. The Africa Channel is also available in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia, Barbados, Bermuda, Grenada and other islands in the Caribbean. Partners include former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young and his company, GoodWorks International; NBA stars Dikembe Mutombo and Theo Ratliff; Williams Group Holdings; and former US Senator Donald Stewart.

TV news services such as the Nigerian Television Authority, South African Broadcasting Channel and Ethiopian Television Programming are also available in some areas.


Nigerian Nollywood films and Ghanaian films can now be rented or purchased from Nigerian and Ghanaian stores and the like in Africa. They are very popular among Africans in the US from many different countries.


Immigrants from Africa have opened restaurants in urban areas. The DC and NYC Metro areas host many eateries belonging to the Liberian, Senegalese, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Kenyan, South African and other communities.


Notable African academics in the US include full tenured professors at the nation's top universities, including, at MIT, Elfatih A.B. Eltahir from Sudan;[39] at Caltech, 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Winner Ahmed Zewail from Egypt; at Yale, professor Lamin Sanneh [40] from Gambia; at Pennsylvania State University, professor Augustin Banyaga, from Rwanda; at Harvard, professors Jacob Olupona,[41] from Nigeria, Barack Obama Sr. from Kenya, Emmanuel K. Akyeampong from Ghana,[42] Biodun Jeyifo from Nigeria,[42] and John Mugane from Kenya;[42] and at Princeton, Adel Mahmoud [43] from Egypt, Wole Soboyejo[44] from Nigeria, Simon Gikandi [45] from Kenya, V. Kofi Agawu from Ghana,[46] and Kwame Anthony Appiah from Ghana.

In sports, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Freddy Adu are prominent.

In the arts, Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron and Grammy Award-winning musician Dave Matthews, both white South Africans; and two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Djimon Hounsou and Grammy-winning musician Angelique Kidjo, both from Benin; and recently Lupita Nyong'o and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, are most notable.

Notable African immigrants

The following is a list of notable African nationals who have immigrated to and now at least partially reside in the US.

Academia and science


  • Muna Khalif, Somali, fashion designer and politician; MP in the Federal Parliament of Somalia
  • Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, Mauritanian, scholar and politician; former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mauritania
  • Barack Obama Sr., Kenyan immigrant who fathered the 44th President of the United States
  • Ihan Omar, Somali, Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party member of the Minnesota House of Representatives

TV and film



  • Roelof Botha, South African, former chief financial officer of PayPal
  • Kase Lukman Lawal, Nigerian, chairman and chief executive officer, CAMAC Holdings
  • Elon Musk, South African, co-founder of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors; CEO and CTO of SpaceX; CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors; chairman of SolarCity


Journalism and literature

See also


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  2. ^ Yoku Shaw-Taylor, Steven A. Tuch, The African contemporary African and Caribbean immigrants in the United States, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7425-4088-0.
  3. ^ David E. Kyoso, Immigrants in the United States, (Godfrey Mwakikagile: 2010), p. 110.
  4. ^ [Bashi, V. (2004, July 4). Globalizing Anti-Blackness: Transnationalzing Western Immigration law, policy and practice. Retrieved May 1, 2010, from Ethnic and Racial Studies:[permanent dead link]]
  5. ^ George Mason University. (1998). Who was Shut Out?: Immigration Quotas, 1925-1927. Retrieved May 1, 2010, from History Matters:
  6. ^ "Table 10. Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status By Broad Class Of Admission And Region And Country Of Birth: Fiscal Year 2016". Department of Homeland Security. 2017-05-16. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  7. ^ "Diversity Visa Program Statistics". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  8. ^ Stein, Jeff; Dam, Andrew Van (2018-02-06). "Analysis | Trump immigration plan could keep whites in U.S. majority for up to five more years". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  9. ^ Collyer, Michael, ed. Emigration nations: Policies and ideologies of emigrant engagement. Springer, 2013.
  10. ^ "Table 10. Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status By Broad Class Of Admission And Region And Country Of Birth: Fiscal Year 2016". Department of Homeland Security. 2017-05-16. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  11. ^ Migration Policy Institute (June 2015). "The Nigerian Diaspora in the United States". Migration Policy Institute.
  12. ^ "Table 10. Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status By Broad Class Of Admission And Region And Country Of Birth: Fiscal Year 2016". Department of Homeland Security. 2017-05-16. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  13. ^ "African Advocacy Network". African Advocacy Network. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  14. ^ Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "Africa". UNHCR. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag "Table 1. First, Second, and Total Responses to the Ancestry Question by Detailed Ancestry Code: 2000". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 2010-12-02.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Total ancestry categories tallied for people with one or more ancestry categories reported 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
  17. ^ "Citizenship Status in the United States: Total population in the United States. 2006–2010 American Community Survey Selected Population Tables". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 2013-12-06.
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  19. ^ Solomon, Salem (February 17, 2017). "African Immigrant Population on Rise in US". Voice of America. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
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  22. ^ US Census Bureau – People Born in Africa
  23. ^ Logan, John; Deane, Glenn (15 August 2003). "Black Diversity in Metropolitan America". Lewis Mumford Center. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  24. ^ "How African-Americans and African Immigrants Differ". The Globalist. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
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  26. ^ African Immigrants in the United States are the Nation's Most Highly Educated Group. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 26 (Winter, 1999–2000), pp. 60–61 doi:10.2307/2999156
  27. ^ a b "Table FBP-1. Profile of Selected Demographic and Social Characteristics: 2000; Population Universe: People Born in Nigeria; Geographic Area: United States" (PDF).
  28. ^ a b "Table FBP-1. Profile of Selected Demographic and Social Characteristics: 2000; Population Universe: People Born in Egypt; Geographic Area: United States" (PDF).
  29. ^ African Immigrants in the United States have the highest rate of education. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 26 (Winter, 1999–2000), pp. 60–61 doi:10.2307/2999156
  30. ^ "Demographics and Statistics of Immigrants : Asian-Nation :: Asian American History, Demographics, & Issues". Asian-Nation. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
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  35. ^ "Project MUSE". Retrieved 18 March 2015.
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  38. ^ a b c (Olupona & Gemignani, 2007)
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  40. ^ "Welcome". Archived from the original on 1 November 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
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  45. ^ "Comparative Literature". Retrieved 18 March 2015.
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  48. ^ "Kwabena Boahen". Retrieved 2010-11-08.
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External links

  • New York Times: Tastes of Nigeria, Sounds of Sierra Leone
  • New York Times: Bronx: Beyond the Yankees and the Zoo
  • New York Times: Solace From a Multiethnic Tapestry
  • Oakland Tribune: Black immigrants: The invisible model minority
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