Extending Occupations, Expanding Education

While some Africans immigrate to the U.S. to practice a particular profession, most need to “start over” once they arrive and extend their work to occupations beyond their training.  Statistically, African immigrants have the highest educational attainment of all immigrant populations to the U.S. They have on average completed more than three years of college and more than half are college graduates. Yet many Africans experience a decrease in job status and earnings because their professional credentials from home, or diplomas from unfamiliar universities, are not valued.

Many immigrants are not able to take the time to re-train or even to perfect their English. They need to find a job rapidly so that they and their families back home might make ends meet. There are some Africans who arrive with little educational or professional experience at all, and they consequently have difficulty selling themselves on the American job market. But even very educated Africans may have little experience with technology, which limits their employment options.

Immigrants unable to take advantage of educational opportunities may enter certain employment "niches": jobs that are high in demand but that require limited skills. These niches include work in nursing homes and as residential aides for the elderly and disabled. Many African men drive taxis and work in parking garages. Many African women work in braiding salons. Some of the people working in these fields have university degrees but have not been able to apply their skills to the American labor market.

Africans who received their training or university degrees in the U.S., on the other hand, tend to integrate easily into the American workforce. They are represented in medicine, research, education, administration, social work, and numerous other fields. Many would have preferred to practice their profession in Africa, but they could not be absorbed into their countries’ economies. They thus became part of Africa’s “brain drain” to the developed world. But even such professionals may encounter skepticism about their credentials on the part of Americans.