Saturday, January 28, 2012

African Immigrants In North America: Making The Grade, But Not The Corner Office

English: The African Students Convention 2005 ...
African students play an important role in institutions of higher learning and later in contribution to R&D in the workforce. Together with Caribbean immigrants, they make up the majority of the 'black' minorities at Ivy League schools. Image via Wikipedia
Africans immigrants to North America are always presented as hard working, friendly, education-focused minorities that adapt well to their new host countries. This image of the hard-working African immigrant is often presented as a stereotype that is in contrast to the stereotype of U.S. born African (Black) Americans (See: The Myth of the Black Immigrant Privilege). In fact, the majority of Africans come to North America do come for the purposes of education more than any other reason. This has led to a situation where more than one-third (36.6%) of African immigrants to the U.S. have a bachelor’s or higher degree. When it comes to education, African immigrants as a group have a higher education rate than immigrants from the West Indies, Asia, and Europe. When compared to U.S. citizens more Africans in the U.S report having a college degree than U.S. born minorities (Asian, Latino, and Black Americans). (See: studies: World Bank, Economic Policy Institute, JBHE) In fact, the stereotype in America popular culture of the genius Asian model minority student, is statistically more likely to be an African student from the continent (See: Direct comparison in Asian-Nation). In fact, in Ivy League colleges in the U.S., recruitment of 'Black' students is made up largely of Black students of African and Caribbean heritage (See: articles in Huffington Post, The Grio) . Africans in the U.S. are doing significantly better in educational attainment rates where 36.6% have a bachelors degree compared to 29.5% White Americans who are also the privileged majority and have the most access to the power institutions in the U.S.  Marriage rates for Africans were also similar to White Americans too (marriage typically indicate higher income). According to a World Bank study on the African Diaspora in North America, Mobilizing the African Diaspora, similar trends can be seen in Canada. Many Africans use education as a means to finding work and ‘improving their lives’. One would assume that having high educational achievement levels would mean an increase in economic factors for African immigrants to the U.S. However, recent studies show the opposite.

Contrary to popular belief about affluence levels for African immigrants in the U.S., recent study has concluded that Africans in the U.S. are currently not doing significantly better than other immigrants overall, Black immigrants or U.S. born citizens (Black, Asian or White). In the Mason and Austin (2011) study, “The Low Wages of Black Immigrants: Wage penalties for U.S.-born and foreign-born black workers”, the study concludes that Africans in the U.S are not fundamentally better off than all other groups including African-Americans. African Americans currently thought of as having the highest rate of unemployment and poverty rates.  It also concludes that Africans are economically more similar to African Americans. The rate of Africans falling into poverty in the U.S. is more similar to that of African-Americans. Lastly, it concludes that unemployment rates for this demographic are similar to that of African Americans. Africans in the U.S. are also currently earning lower wages then African Americans. Whilst Africans are doing better than African Americans in terms of poverty, unemployment, and marriage rates, it is not significantly better in spite of higher education rates. It is interesting to note that in the study conducted by the World Bank, Mobilizing the African Diaspora, for African immigrants that migrated to Canada, the high education levels of African immigrants are reflected in the level of pay or opportunities. For the African diaspora in the U.S though, despite high education rates for Africans, economic factors aren’t tallying up when it comes to getting the corner office. This even though in both countries, Africans were more likely to report having the highest rates of education and higher rates of working as professionals then other immigrant populations.

English: Mr. Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi deliver...
African students receive the early years of their education from home institutions and are recruited overseas for work and further education. Image via Wikipedia
One explanation for this is that Africans still continue to face discrimination in the U.S. because of color (‘race’), nationality, and legal requirements. Stringent immigration laws barring opportunities for legal employment for many students may factor in for U.S. that want to transition to the workforce. The recession has also influences this recent phenomenon. In an article that appeared in the Huffington Post, “Foreign-Born Blacks Hit Hardest Of All Immigrant Groups By Jobs Crisis” it was reported that the U.S. recession that began in 2007, affected all Black people in the U.S  because they faced similar discrimination in the job hiring process. For Africans, discrimination in terms of wage/salary and job hiring was worse than that of African Americans. There has been increasing unemployment for Africans too. By 2009, greater numbers of African immigrants than any other group lived in a household with an annual income below the federal poverty line. The Migration Information Source reports that based on the U.S. census, the majority of Africans in the U.S work in service occupations like construction, extraction and transportation (30%), compared to 12.5% that work in management, business, and finance professions that pay more. Africans here were more likely then any other immigrant group however to report working in professional jobs. This suggests that despite high education rates, Africans are getting jobs that are not reflecting their qualifications and/or that they are overqualified for. The difficulties faced in legal immigration and/or obtaining work permits may help explain these patterns as well since we don't see the same phenomena in Canada, where immigration laws allow for smoother and more transparent legal work authorization process. It would also be beneficial to access other obligations that may contribute towards Africans living below the poverty line like obligations in their home country.  This may include contributions towards buying assets, homes, businesses, or other investments and funding education for relatives. Although the Mason and Austin (2011), suggests that the prominence of the African degree may be one reason as to why Africans are not getting higher jobs, it is important to note that many Africans do get in to Masters/Phd degrees in African institutions and are recruited to higher education or work. In a small poor country like Malawi as an example, many Malawian doctors and nurses are recruited overseas with their Malawian degrees. As an example, there are more Malawian trained doctors in Manchester, U.K than in Malawi itself.

Education has always been important to Africans, and it is seen as a ways to upward mobility. But as we can see, there are limits to how far it can take African immigrants. For many this has been the case, but as immigrants to new countries, Africans will still always face the same levels of economic discrimination that the native born minorities face. Over time, we will need to continue to monitor data to see if factors for second and third generation Africans will converge with those of native born Black minorities. As Fanon notes:
"When a bachelor of philosophy from the Antilles refuses to apply for certification as a teacher on the grounds of his color I say that philosophy has never saved anyone. When someone else strives and strains to prove to me that black men are as intelligent as white men I say that intelligence has never saved anyone: and that is true, for, if philosophy and intelligence are invoked to proclaim the equality of men, they have also been employed to justify the extermination of men.” - Frantz Fanon

--  A version of this article, "Africans Immigrants In The US: Making The Grade, But Not The Jobs" was posted on Group blog, Africa on the Blog on Nov 28, 2011.