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Sorry Trump: The Best Immigrants Are African

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was recently quoted saying that most undocumented immigrants 'don't have skills' to integrate into the U.S.

“The vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They're not criminals,” John Kelly told NPR, but “they're also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society.”

He pointed to things like being from rural areas, not having extensive education and not speaking English as factors that inhibit their so-called-assimilation.

If we followed Kelly's remarks, the US should be opening its doors to immigrants who speak English fluently, have bachelor's degrees or higher and contribute positively to our economy.

If that's the case, we need look no further than Africa.

Talk the Talk

Sub-Saharan Africa is a region made up of 49 countries with a total population of more than 1.1 billion people. Of those 49 countries, English is an official language in more than a dozen of them - including Zimbabwe, Uganda, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Africa, Sudan, Malawi, Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania and Nigeria.

English is used widely as a means of general communication, as well as in businesses and higher education, although many of these countries also have numerous tribal languages that are widely spoken. Uganda has more than 60 languages alone, while both Tanzania and Kenya have two official languages – Kiswahili and English.

That means that African countries aren't just full of native English speakers - they're often bi or trilingual. As we learned from a New American Economy's report last year, demand for bilingual workers has more than doubled over five years, which means that these multi-lingual Africans are a huge potential asset to the modern workplace.


Recently, Bloomberg released an article comparing characteristics of foreign-born people here in the US. According to the piece, most of their information came from the Migration Policy Institute, the Pew Research Center and, primarily, from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), which surveys around 2 million households in the US, both citizen and immigrant. (Notably, the ACS does not sort immigrants by whether they have permission to be in the U.S. or not.)

What they found is that African immigrants are more educated than most other groups living in the US today - including US Citizens by birth.

By the numbers

Of the nearly 90,000 South Africans living in the US today, 58% have a bachelor's degree or higher, while 63% of the 152,000 Egyptians in the United States have a similar education level.

In fact, 42% of all African immigrants have a bachelor’s degree or higher - compared to only 33% of Native-born Americans carrying university credentials.

The standout group, however, was certainly Nigeria. Of the 262,603 Nigerians in the US, 60.9% have a bachelor's degree or higher, and a whopping 17% have a master's degree, medical degree, law degree or a doctorate, compared to only 11% of the U.S.-born population.

Last year, the Migration Policy Institute - a think tank in Washington D.C., also released a report on sub-Saharan African immigrants in the U.S.

"It's a population that's very diverse in its educational, economic and English proficiency profile," said Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst and coauthor of the report. According to Andrew Lim, Associate Director of Research, "[sub-Saharan Africans]

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."

Lim further explains that this $40.3 billion pays for housing, transportation, consumer goods and education for their children — "things that actually stimulate the economy around them."

Hard Work Abounds

Bloomberg's article also laid out the hardest-working immigrant groups in the U.S. - defined by what percentage of the population age 16 and older is currently employed, organized by country of birth.

Topping the charts came Ghanaians, with a 75% employment rate, followed closely by Kenyans and Ethiopians, at 73% each, with Nigerians close at their heels with 71% of their US population being gainfully employed.

The data covers everyone age 16 and up, which means both retirees and students count against the total, bringing the ratio down amongst groups pursuing higher education.

As Kenya, Nigeria, Nepal and Ghana have the highest percentages of higher-learning attendees in all of the immigrant groups, it should mean that their employment rates are lower. In reality, however, immigrants from Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana are near the top in both employment-population ratio and higher-education enrollment - making these three countries easy winners in the hardest working immigrant populations category.

Africans in the USA

According to a report by New American Economy, the U.S. immigrant population from sub-Saharan Africa grew from 723,000 to more than 1.7 million between 2010 and 2015; still, these hard-working, highly educated immigrant groups make up just half a percent of the U.S. population.

Drawing from U.S. surveys and Census Bureau data, the report found that the majority of African immigrants come from five countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa, and about 22% of these African immigrants are refugees.

Of the sub-Saharan immigrants who have become legal permanent residents, 17% came through the highly contested Diversity Visa program - also known as the Green Card Lottery.

So why is it that African immigrants are getting such a bad rap in the United States, compared to immigrants from Asian or European countries?

Edward P. Lazear, writing for the Wall Street Journal, laid out an interesting experiment to explain a potential reason why.

"Consider immigrants to the U.S. from Algeria, Israel and Japan, and rank them in order of most educated to least educated. The correct answer is Algeria, Israel then Japan. If you are Algerian and educated, or aspire to be educated, your prospects in Algeria are relatively poor and you may seek to leave. A talented, educated person in Japan or Israel can do just fine by staying at home. These kinds of considerations explain about 73 percent of the variation in the educational outcomes of migrants."

When they do make it to the United States however, African immigrants thrive. Seventy-four percent of African immigrants ages five and older are proficient English speakers, and roughly six-in-ten African immigrants have already become U.S. citizens. Although John Kelly may not be aware, this immigrant group so poorly spoken of by Trump and his followers are actually the most likely of any immigrant group to assimilate well into American culture and contribute positively to both the economy and our American society.

If you're interested in immigrating to the US from the African continent and have questions about the process, or would like to know more about your options, please get in touch with us and we'd be happy to help.