African Immigrants and the American Mosaic

An article from the March 25 Boston Globe is a reminder that America is increasingly diverse.

“On the hard road to US citizenship, black immigrants are increasingly gaining ground in Massachusetts and the United States, expanding the possibilities for political power and changing what it means to be black in America.”

In Massachusetts, according to the Globe, black immigrants comprise about a third of the black population, and a majority of black babies born today have an immigrant mother. While Massachusetts is way ahead of the nation in these statistics, more black faces are appearing at swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens all across the country.

Immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean are still a small part of our immigration stream. Until recently, few Africans had close family members in the U.S. to sponsor them through an immigration system that favors close family ties. However, Africans have benefited from two other immigration streams.

In recent years, the U.S. has accepted more Africans as refugees than in the past. In 2011, more than 7,500 refugees were admitted to the U.S. from Africa.

Africans have also been big winners in the annual visa lottery. This system was set up specifically to mitigate effects of a family immigration system that has been dominated by relatively few countries. In 2011, more than 24,000 Africans gained immigrant status through the visa lottery, far more visas than immigrants from any other region of the world.

Immigrants entering the U.S. through these two streams will be able to sponsor family members, so Africans will increasingly have access to the family immigration system.

When it comes to citizenship, there is an accelerator effect that pertains to Africans: According to the Office of Immigration Statistics, African immigrants spent the least time in legal immigrant status before applying for citizenship—five years. Basically, this means that, generally, African immigrants apply for citizenship as soon as they are eligible. The norm for all immigrants is seven years.

All this means that, in the citizenship ceremonies of the future, we will see more African faces as America becomes even more diverse.

This article was written for the National Immigration Forum, and was published on the website of the New Americans Campaign.