Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Human Capital and the Performance of African Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Human Capital and the Performance of African Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market

Article excerpt


In most of American history, Americans of African descent (African Americans) were not considered immigrants. The nature of slavery, and the involuntary nature of their movement to North America have been cited as reasons (Kposowa, 1998; Daniels, 1990). One consequence of this was that even as various ethnic and racial groups in the United States took advantage of the family reunification provisions of U.S. Immigration law to bring in relatives and other kin, it was virtually impossible for African Americans to do so for their ancestors and their descendants in Africa. Thus, for most of U.S. history Africans, ancestors of African Americans were under-represented in immigrant streams to the United States. Indeed, a consistent feature of U.S. immigration laws since the founding of the Republic has been racial and ethnic discrimination (Pinkney, 2000; Kposowa, 1998). In various periods, legislation was manipulated to ensure that only Whites from northwestern European countries could immigrate easily. At different times in the history of the United States, it was virtually impossible for a nonwhite person to come. In fact, so blatant was the racist ideology built into the laws that an unprecedented action was taken in 1882 to exclude Chinese Immigrants. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is now widely believed among immigration analysts as the first serious attempt by the Federal government to regulate immigration (Gimpel & Edwards, 1999; Kposowa, 1998; Li, 1976).

The situation changed significantly with the passage of the 1965 Amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act, which removed the discriminatory national origins quota system that had been the hallmark of U.S. immigration law prior to 1965 (Harper, 1975). One notable feature of the new immigration law was that although family reunification remained the cornerstone, other categories were created whereby persons that did not already, have relatives in the country could come. For example, a preference category for skilled professionals (or jobs in short supply in the United States) was created. Some observers have noted that since the passage of the 1965 Amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act, immigration to the United States has changed both in terms of numbers and in terms of the quality of persons admitted (Briggs, 1984). Another feature was that `non-immigrants' could come for a limited period. That category includes students, visitors, representatives of foreign governments, entertainers, religious leaders, etc.

As a consequence of these modifications in U.S. immigration law, there has been a steady, albeit slow increase in the number of African immigrants to the United States. Their arrival was exacerbated especially with the end of European colonialism, when numerous African nations obtained their independence beginning in the late 1950s.

Although there is now believed to be a sizable number of African immigrants in the United States (see Table 1), relatively little is actually known about their socioeconomic achievement and their performance in the U.S. labor market relative to their White and African American counterparts. It is also unclear whether some of the factors that have constrained the economic achievement of African Americans also act to the detriment of Africans in the American economy.

To the extent that Africans have been ignored in past sociological and demographic analyses, there remains a gap in knowledge about the human capital characteristics of this group, and the extent to which these characteristics differ from those of Whites and African Americans. The aim of this study is to investigate whether African immigrants, White immigrants, native-born Blacks and Whites differ in their earnings returns to human capital and socioeconomic characteristics. More specifically, the study addresses such questions as the following: (1) Do significant differences exist between Africans and Whites? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.