Five Surprising Facts about African Immigrants
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What do these people have in common?
Elon Musk, Trevor Noah (Daily Show host), Lupita Nyong’o (Oscar-winning actress), Tope Awotona (founder of Calendly), Iman (super model), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (New York Times best-selling author), Ezekiel Ansah (American football linebacker) Dr. Ndabisa Moyo (world-renowned economist and author), Meb Keflezighi (Boston Marathon winner).
They are famous and wildly successful in their chosen careers. They would make great clients for any advisor.
First-generation immigrants born in Africa
They are all first-generation immigrants born in Africa. They are among the 2.1 million African-born immigrants in the U.S.
They all spent their formative years somewhere in Africa and had to go through the visa journey to get to where they are today.
They represent a small number of countries in Africa: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Zambia, and Eritrea.
They made their wealth from scratch and their work ethic represents the growing class of African immigrants.
It’s a group that’s misunderstood and sometimes disparaged.
In the media, there is a common narrative that emigrating from Africa (especially from sub-Saharan Africa), is primarily due to war, poverty or other negative factors.
The former president magnified this narrative by describing African countries and, by extension, immigrants from those countries as s*t*h*l* countries.
African stories reported in the media are typically negative ones, and by extension, these are the stories attached to African immigrants in the U.S.
As exemplified by the individuals named at the start of this article, there is another narrative you don't hear a lot about this group of immigrants.
I’m going to discuss five facts about this group that will give you a better sense of these worthy immigrants.
1. Africa is not a country, it’s a continent
There is a tendency to lump all African immigrants into one homogenous group. There are 54 countries in Africa recognized by the United Nations, each with their own distinct languages, cultures, and custom.
These are the cultures each group brings along with them. They greatly influence how they live in the U.S.
This diversity is part of what makes some of these individuals so successful.
2. About the language – English
Sierra Leone and Liberia are the only countries in Africa where English is the primary language. About 26 countries have English as either the official or the secondary language. For most African immigrants, English is their second, third, and, for some, fourth language.
The original languages influence how everyone pronounces certain words (accent).
In social circles, this translates to speaking all languages, sometimes in the same sentence, which can be very confusing to a monolingual individual.
For example, English is my third language. When I speak with my family, we tend to converse in three languages at once: English, Kiswahili and my mother tongue, Kikuyu, all in the same conversation, depending on who is involved.
It makes communication richer.
3. Not every African immigrant is a refugee
Immigration laws make it very challenging to move to the U.S. as a refugee.
Most African immigrants move to the U.S. for economic reasons and family ties. They seek higher education or better job opportunities.
4. They are the most educated group in the U.S.
Census data shows that the most educated group in the U.S. is African immigrants. They are far ahead of every other immigrant group like Asians and native-born Americans.
Approximately 43% hold bachelor’s degrees or higher. Almost two-thirds of Nigerian immigrants have bachelor’s degrees. African immigrants are also the most likely to hold advanced degrees.
African parents generally believe education is the route to success. African immigrants hold on to this dearly which leads to them prioritizing college savings, after settling in the U.S.
5. They work extremely hard and send a ton of money home
A Bloomberg report shows that African immigrants work harder than other immigrant groups including native-born Americans. At the top of the list are immigrants from Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Liberia.
Immigrants are very entrepreneurial. Research shows they start businesses at a higher rate compared to native-born Americans. This applies to all immigrants, not just those from Africa.
They participate in the labor market at very high rates. They also send a lot of money to their home countries.
According to a World Bank report, in 2020, immigrants sent over $44 billion to sub-Saharan countries, which was actually a decrease from the previous year.
This group has very strong ties to their home countries. They believe in community and in supporting those they left behind as well as investing in different projects in those countries
This is a group you want to cultivate as clients or just friends. Your life will be richer for having interacted with them.
Jane Mepham is the founder of Elgon Financial Advisors, a registered investment advisor based in Austin, Texas. Her advisory practice is limited to providing investment and financial planning advice to foreign-born employees. She works directly with these employees and has flexible relationships with investment advisors serving this community who require her specialized knowledge. She holds a master’s degree in information technology and a bachelor’s degree in computer science, in addition to being a CFP candidate.