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West Africans

Significant contemporary African immigration to the United States did not begin until the 1980s.

Prior to this decade, there were approximately 200,000 African-born people in the United States. Most people of African heritage living in the country were descendants of enslaved Africans who were forcibly and violently brought to the United States during the slave trade.

The passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished nationality quotas put in place in 1921, which increased immigration from West Africa. Immigration was also facilitated by the “diversity visa program,” also known as the “green card lottery,” which was created in 1995 to offer free Green Cards (usually about 50,000) to immigrants from backgrounds that were traditionally excluded from the U.S.

Populations in Minnesota

Today, there are 1.6 million U.S. residents who were born in Africa; of these, 36.3% (574,000) are from Western Africa. In Minnesota, there are 73,000 residents born in Africa; of these, 25% (roughly 18,000) were born in West Africa.

Most figures in this article are taken from the Minnesota Compass website, which in turn relies on Census data; several experts cited in other papers, however, have noted that Census data tends to undercount the number of African immigrants, especially those with temporary visas or those who lack documentation.