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Why Nigerians and African Immigrants Are No Longer Most Successful In America

By Caleb Onyeabor/Exclusive to The African Times/USA

Step aside Nigerian Americans! The Indians are here! And they are here to stay. The narrative today is that Nigerian immigrants no longer occupy the enviable position of being the most successful and/or the most educated group of immigrants in the United States of America.

According to available official statistics, and as at 2015, approximately 376,000 Nigerian immigrants and their families live in the United States of America. These include first and second generation Nigerian Americans. US Census Bureau data reveals that Nigeria is the largest single source of African migration into the United States. Unofficially, the word on the streets of America is that of every five immigrant from Africa, three of them are likely to be Nigerians. 

They are found in every walk of life (academia, business, healthcare, private security services and even sports), and they live in major American metros and college towns. Talking of sports, the exploits of Nigerian-born athletes on American pitches remain indelible in the psyche of the average American sports enthusiast. Or, how can any American forget the remarkable feat of basketball’s 2008 Hall of Fame inductee Hakeem (The Dream) Olajuwon, the formidable American football running back (RB) Christian (Nigerian Nightmare) Emeka Okoye, among a number of others.

A study by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) shows that the size of the Nigerian-born population in the United States has grown from a small base since 1980 when the number of estimated Nigerian immigrants was 25,000. Since 2015, Nigerian immigrants therefore account for over 0.6% of the overall of foreign-born population in the United States. The data also showed that half of these Nigerian immigrants arrived in America before 2000.

The most frequently asked question about Nigerian Americans in the United States compared to their counterparts from other countries has been: “What is the secret to their success?” – a topic that has been a subject of controversy and debate in the portals of American institutions of higher learning, restaurants, pubs and such other public fora. This perception of Nigerian Americans actually gained traction in 2011 when Amy Chua, a Harvard Professor otherwise known as the “Tiger Mom” listed Nigerian Americans as high achievers In her best-selling seminal literary work. 

However, a study recently conducted by The African Times/USA shows that Nigerian Americans no longer belong to Professor Amy Chua’s list of high achievers in America. And why so? And what happened?  The answers can be found in the datas obtained and now at the disposal of The Times’ research editors.

Nevertheless, Amy Chua’s position of over 12 years ago has however continually but erroneously been reinforced and referenced by the likes of Candace Owens, the controversial American conservative social critic and a handful of online publications who still swear by the narrative that Nigerian immigrants are among the most successful group of immigrants in the United States. On the basis of how major indices with which the success of any group is calculated in the United States, which include educational attainments, income-per-capita, percentage in the labor force, and top management positions in corporate America, social status, etc., the existing narrative is clearly off course. To support their claim, some of the proponents of this narrative base their argument on the 2008 US Census Bureau data which shows that 29% of the Nigerian American population over the age of 25 years hold an undergraduate degree, compared to the 11% of the overall U.S population, and that the average Nigerian American immigrant boast a median household income of $62,351 compared to $56,617 nationally as of 2015.

As grandeur as the Census Bureau figures may sound, the problem here is that those figures are outdated and at best, misleading. The other danger is that when The African Times/USA research editors interpreted the report, they concluded that the figures were cherry-picked and were arrived at without any scientific analysis of the data as it pertains to other immigrant communities in America, which include the Indians, Mexicans, Pakistanis, Chinese, Iranians, Taiwanese, Turkish, Russians, South Africans, Ethiopians, among many others. 

Poring through the same volume of data made available by the US Census Bureau and for the same period under review, The African Times/USA also found the claim that Nigerians are the most educated immigrants in the US as unsubstantiated and patently false as is the claim that this group of immigrants as being in the class of the most successful immigrants in the United States. In The Times’ findings from the Census Board data, there were seven other countries whose nationals boast of a higher percentage of first degree holders or other higher degrees than Nigerian Americans. Indian immigrants top this list with 44% aggregate as against Nigerian Americans who came in at a distant 29%!

A subsequent data released by the US Census Bureau on educational attainment of immigrants groups for 2016 showed that indian-born immigrants were the highest and 10 other countries had higher graduate attainment than Nigerian Americans. The Nigerians were also outranked by immigrants that identified as having Iranian, Bulgarian and Russian ancestry. Furthermore, in the area of median household incomes for 2016, Africa Check, a fact-checking outlet also found out that 30 other countries were ahead of Nigeria whose figure was $62,351. For the data on diaspora groups with graduate degrees or higher degrees in 2016, India came in first at 44%, Taiwan followed at 39.7%, France at 36.5%, Russia at 36.4%, Bulgaria at 33.1%, Spain at 32.1%, Turkey at 31.7%, China at 29.5%, Malaysia at 29.2%, Iran at 28.7% and Nigeria at 27.9%.

In the more recent data of 2021 released by the US Census Bureau on educational attainment data from 2011 to 2021, the percentage of adult age persons of 25 years and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher degrees increased from 34.0% to 41.9% for the non-hispanic white population; from 19.9% to 28.1% for the Black Population; from 50.3% to 61.0% for the Asian population; and from 14.1% to 20.6% for the Hispanic Population. This shows that in the last 10 years, the Asians in America have been ahead of other immigrant communities in the United States. Additional data made available by the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2017-2021) shows that the percentage of White people with Bachelor’s degree or higher degrees is 35.5%,  Black people had 23.3%, Native Americans – 15.5%, Asians – 55.6% and people of Hispanic or Latino origin – 18.4%.

In another 2021 data analysis made available by MPI, about 45.3 million immigrants lived in the United States in 2021 which is the highest since census records have been kept. In 2021, immigrants were 13.6 percent of the total U.S population. Approximately 80% of immigrant adults from India had a Bachelor’s degree or more in 2021, more than any other origin country. Other top countries include UAE 78%, Saudi Arabia 77%, Taiwan 73%, Bulgaria, France and Singapore 67%. Russia 66%, Nigeria 62%. Ethiopia at 32%, Ghana at 42%, Kenya at 46%, South Africa at 64%, Cameroon at 63%, Sudan at 46%, Zimbabwe at 63%, Uganda at 64%, Zambia at 52%, Tanzania 55% and Guinea at 44%. The Times’ findings actually showed that South Africa (64%), and NOT Nigeria (62%) is the current leading African country by educational attainment indices in the US while Indians are the leading most educated group of immigrants in the overall in the United States of America.

As one example of their success, indian-Americans are topping the charts in terms of income. Median family income among indian Americans between the ages of 25 and 55 stood at $133,130 in 2019 well above the median income of $86,400 among White America. When compared to other Asian Americans, the indians have higher income and according to the data, indians earned more at $133.13k, followed by other Asians at $97.6k, White Americans earned $86.4k, others earned $68.0k, Hispanic earned $60.05k and Blacks earned $53.8k.

Our findings also revealed that  Indian immigrants are currently the immigrant group that is taking over the top echelon of major American corporations. From Google to Microsoft, Twitter and other high tech companies with the highest market capitalization in the United States, the Indians are routinely being head-hunted as CEOs and head of business affairs in these blue chip companies. This has since been confirmed by no less a player in the US technology space than Elon Musk who in a recent interview talked of how America has benefited from the influx of Indian talents and expats into the United States.

As at the last official data, Indians NOT Nigerians have become the most successful immigrants in the United States, and among the overall African immigrant population, South Africans and NOT Nigerians are the most successful in the United States, among who of course are Elon Musk and Dr. Patrick  Soon-Shiong, a South African-born American transplant surgeon, businessman, biochemist and Publisher of the Los Angeles Times who is of Asian extraction.

The big questions now under discussions are: Why is this so? And why are the Indians outdoing other immigrant groups in America? Why are immigrants of Asian descent performing better overall than their African immigrant counterparts? 

For answers, The African Times/USA research editors unearthed the following interesting information. Firstly, that the Indians who arrive the shores of the United States come better prepared, armed with the requisite foundational skill sets, and secondly they arrive to well-defined community of their kind in many parts of the United States. Most interesting is that these Indian immigrants are products of a long-term and significant investment program by the Indian government in human capital development and in such education programs as STEM, an investment made as far back as in the 1960’s. The result is that what the Americans are reaping today with a tangible crossover effect on the Indian economy and society was a seed sown many years ago.

Strategic to the quick and rapid integration into their new environment, are the existence of fully functional Indian satellite settlements throughout the United States that immediately provide safety nets for the new arrivals. Consequently, many Indian and Asian immigrants benefit from well established networks which provide them with the needed support and guidance. Juxtapose this with African or the new Nigerian immigrants who lack such familial support groups or communities. Facts show that there are no Nigerian Town or Ghana Town anywhere in the US. The only excusable exception is the larger Ethiopian community.

Worsening their collective chances of survival in America as a group is the initial culture shock and the inevitable challenge of how to adjust to the American mentality. As economic refugees, new African immigrants, many of them who were forced to flee their home countries due to worsening economic, political and social conditions, especially from a country such as Nigeria other mostly West African countries.  Stories of unwholesome living conditions – decaying infrastructure, insecurity, state-sanctioned killings and banditry, a poor healthcare delivery system and rising unemployment, etc. Upon arrival in the United States, the latest arrivals of African immigrants preoccupy themselves with finding employment as auxiliary nurses, security guards, taxi drivers, etc. and other such low-paying jobs   

The only upside to this trend is that once the immigrants settle down to having and raising families, there has been the emergence in the last 20 years of a second generation of Nigerian Americans who are doing quite well for themselves in the areas of sports, law, medicine, academia, and a few in the IT industry. With mellifluous sounding names, these are offsprings of Africa immigrants who now vicariously live their American dream through their “American” children. The problem however is that we noticed a disconnect between second generation Nigerian Americans and their parents. The younger demography see themselves first as Americans and process life through an American mentality resulting in clashes with their “African” parents.

Overall, and like all the other immigrants, Nigerians and other African immigrants have serially been described as hardworking, industrious, entrepreneurial, creative and productive citizens of the United States. Examples are replete with stories of Nigerian Americans who have attained lofty heights in the larger American society in the last few decades. The long list includes such names as Adebayo Ogunlesi, the brilliant lawyer and investment banker, who once headed up Credit Suisse First Boston; Kase Lukman Lawal, one-time Vice Chairman of the Port of Houston Authority Commission who runs one of the most successful African American-owned businesses in the United States, among many such others. 

In the field of medicine, Nigerian-born physicians are generally reputed among their colleagues to be among the best in several multi-disciplined levels of practice including neurosurgery, cardiology, oncology, psychiatry, and such other highly sought-after skills. One of them, Bennet Ifekandu Omalu, a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist first discovered and published findings on chronic traumatic encephalopathy in American football players that became the theme of the Hollywood film “Concussion” played by Will Smith. Closer to home, Africa Consult Group, the think tank department of this publication, The African Times/USA served as the marketing/communication advisor to the over 4,000-strong Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas (ANPA), a professional umbrella organization that boasts of an impressive membership of medical doctors in America. 

“Nigerian Americans have the capacity to do better than the indians and other Asians in America”, one of our research editors opined “if they can develop a coordinated community-based network as well defined as their Asian counterparts. At the moment, the Nigerian/African community is virtual and nondescript. And you cannot build generational wealth by flying solo. Look at the Jews, the Koreans, the Chinese, the Hispanics. They were able to create a niche for themselves in America by coming together, trusting one another and learning about how to pull together, and how to be and remain competitive in an equally highly competitive American society”

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