We’ve known for some time that the numbers of African-born immigrants coming to the United States are on the rise. But new data published by the Migration Policy Institute offers an incredible new look at the shape of the new communities across America. Over the last 30 years, the African born population has grown from just 200,000 people to 1.5 million. And while Africans still make up just 3.9 percent of the total foreign-born population, that share is growing fast. In 2010, for example, nearly 10 percent of new green card recipients were born in Africa.
For African foreign policy watchers, there’s good reason to be very excited about this news.
Africa has long been the forgotten continent in Washington—last on the list to receive resources and policymakers’ attention. Geopolitics has had much to do with that. But so too did the constituency here at home in the United States. There simply weren’t very many voluntary migrants from Africa to the United States until the 1980s.
But go to any public event on Africa in Washington these days and you’ll see how times are changing. Regardless of the venue or the speaker, members of the diaspora are watching and holding the speakers and policymakers accountable. They are asking tough questions and demanding that their home countries be taken seriously. When the Kenyan Vice President came through town last year, he spent about half of his time speaking at the New America Foundation responding to the concerns of the incredibly organized diaspora organization in attendance.
It’s not just that there are more African-born immigrants in the United States, either, the new research reveals. Compared to native-born Americans, African immigrants are more likely to hold higher degrees. They’re more likely than the foreign-born population overall to speak English. And they live in urban areas—including nearly a quarter who live in the New York and Washington D.C. metro areas. In other words, they are educated, organized, and right next to the centers of power.
Will this new constituency result in better Africa policy? Perhaps. One thing that’s certainly clear is that policymakers are having to listen up and take advice from the diaspora community. These days, there are many trained eyes watching.