Immigration Trends and Data

The dominant motives of West African immigrants to America differ by country of origin.  

Immigrants from Nigeria often come to the U.S. to complete their higher education or secure skilled jobs, and tend to be better-educated than other immigrant groups upon their arrival in the U.S.  

By contrast, many immigrants from Liberia and Sierra Leone have been forced to flee war or persecution in their home countries, and a large number have arrived as refugees or asylum seekers.

English Fluency

A common advantage shared by Nigerian and Liberian immigrants is fluency—or at least proficiency—in English.

English is the official language of Nigeria and Liberia, Ghana and Sierra Leone, as established by colonial powers. Even though English may not be the majority language in some of these countries, where various native African languages are more common, most of the people who choose to immigrate to the U.S. do speak English.

Plans to Stay

There is reported variation in the duration of time for which West African immigrants plan to stay in the U.S.  

Those who are already well-off, but seeking a better life, may return to their countries of origin once they have completed their degrees or earned enough money to start a business.

Likewise, some refugees from Liberia say they will return home once it is safe to do so, though even a decade after the official end of the war the situation in Liberia remains unstable.

Other West African immigrants, and most Liberians, plan to stay in the U.S. permanently, and many have started families or are pursuing U.S. citizenship.

The appeal of Minnesota and the Twin Cities

African immigrants may have been drawn to Minnesota by the strong job and economic growth trends prior to the recession.

Most West African immigrants in Minnesota settle in the Twin Cities, which is home to 11,662 of the state’s 12,216 Liberian-born residents (95.4%), 4,515 of 4,672 Nigerians (96.6%), and 1,634 of 2,099 Ghanaians (77.8%). For comparison, the Twin Cities are home to 3,797,883 of Minnesota’s 5,422,060 people (70.0%).

This is consistent with national-level data, which finds that 95% of all African-born residents of the U.S. live in metropolitan areas. Those living outside the Twin Cities may be drawn by the offer of jobs in the agriculture and meatpacking industries, where the work is stable and secure but offers low wages and little hope of promotion.