Study finds African immigrants’ success in U.S. depends on nationality

An ongoing study by Dr. Kefa M. Otiso, geography, has shown that African immigrants in the United States are generally more educated and earn higher salaries than immigrants from elsewhere. The African immigrants’ success, however, depends on what country they come from, he has found.

Dr. Kefa Otiso

Otiso began the study nearly six years ago. An immigrant from Kenya, he was interested to see how the nearly 1.5 million other African immigrants are “faring in the U.S., and how they are being incorporated into American society.”

The study shows that, overall, African immigrants perform better than the rest of the U.S. population in education and employment.

“Many African immigrants are successful because of their good work ethic, focus and a drive to succeed that is honed by the limited socioeconomic opportunities of their native African countries,” Otiso said.

The average annual personal income of African immigrants is about $26,000—nearly $2,000 more than that of workers born in the U.S. This might be because 71 percent of the Africans 16 years and older are working, compared to 64 percent of Americans, Otiso said.

Success is higher among Africans from English-speaking countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt, Otiso found. Immigrants from these countries are able to better adapt and take advantage of educational, social and economic opportunities available in the U.S.

Otiso reported the first results of his study at the Kenyan Diaspora investment forum last March, and they were published in Mshale, a newspaper for African people, in June.

Otiso said he fits many of the typical characteristics of African immigrants in the U.S. Based on Census data from 2000, a larger percentage of African immigrants have higher educational qualifications than Americans, which results in higher per capita incomes. Most African immigrants are also male, and they earn more than their female counterparts by the same margin as in the U.S. population as a whole.

He wants the study’s representation of the different groups of African immigrants to help policy-makers and social service agencies better serve these groups.

“I hope that my research could help Americans understand and appreciate the role of the highly skilled African immigrants in the U.S. economy, and help American cities with high numbers of African immigrants to find ways of assisting them to join the American mainstream.”

According to Otiso, help is especially needed for immigrants from Somalia. They have to overcome many difficulties before blending in with the U.S. population.

“Somalis face many hurdles on their journey to the American mainstream,” Otiso said. “They are racial minorities, religious minorities and are often linguistically isolated, unlike immigrants from Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana who come into the U.S. with good English language skills.”

He continued by saying Somalis are often less financially, socially, educationally and emotionally prepared because many have come as refugees following the outbreak of the Somali civil war in the early 1990s. Columbus has the second-largest concentration of Somalis of any U.S. city.

“Because these immigrants come from a continent that is often cast in an unfavorable light in the U.S. media, there is a tendency for many Americans to miss the vital contribution of these immigrants to meeting critical U.S. domestic labor needs, enhancing American global economic and technological competitiveness and helping America build critical economic, cultural and diplomatic links with the increasingly strategic African continent,” Otiso said.

Including Otiso, BGSU employs eight faculty members from Africa. There are currently 163 international students enrolled from 12 African countries. The largest number of students come from Kenya, followed by Ghana and Tanzania.

March 17, 2008