Friday, February 20, 2004

Houston Area Survey of Immigrant Educational Attainment

Asian Data

African Data

Note that the figure for African immigrants is actually higher than that for Filipinos, the best educated of the four Asian groups accounted for in the survey.

Figure 14 shows that distinctions by continent of origin matter greatly for the black immigrants in Houston. Remarkably, the newcomers from Africa, primarily Nigeria, have higher levels of education and professional skills than any other immigrant community interviewed in the surveys, including any and all of the Asians. Only 5% of the African immigrants now residing in Harris County have no more than high school diplomas; 62% have college degrees, and 35% have post-graduate credentials beyond college. In contrast, the black immigrants from the Caribbean, primarily Jamaica, are arriving with no higher educational credentials than those of the native-born African Americans.

Of course, as the survey points out, this is largely an artifact of American immigration regulations: immigration simply wasnt an option for either Africans or Asians (after 1929) until 1965, so chain immigration based on family ties isn't an option for most would-be immigrants from those regions even today. Nevertheless, the point of this post is to caution against the temptation to lump all individuals of African ancestry in the US into a single generic "black" category, as there really are major differences in the characteristics of the various subgroups. It also demonstrates the illegitimacy of drawing inferences about the capabilities of whole nations based only on what one knows about immigrants from those countries - immigrants do leave their homelands for a reason, after all.

On a sidenote, it is intriguing to note that the winner of the 1996 National Geography Bee was the son of Yoruba immigrants. It simply won't do to apply all the old stereotypes about "black" educational underachievement to the newcomers.

Seyi Fayanju, 12, of Verona, New Jersey, is the U.S.-born son of two Nigerian immigrants. His hours spent reading his parents' encyclopedias came paid off at the National Geography Bee. The contest brought together 57 finalists from middle schools nationwide and was hosted by "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, who is a native of Canada.

The geography bee competition came down to Seyi Fayanju and Ryan Bean, 14, of Augusta, Maine. Trebek asked the final question: "Name the European coprinicpality whose head of state are the president of France and the bishop of Urgel?" Ryan Bean guessed Monaco but was incorrect. Trebek turned to Seyi Fayanju, who answered "Andorra." His correct answer won him a $25,000 scholarship

I have a prediction to make: 20 years from now, assuming anyone bothers to make the distinction between African immigrants and African-Americans (confusing, isn't it?), people will marvel at the way these newcomers managed to climb so quickly and so high up the economic ladder. I know at first hand that there are an awfully large number of highly-trained Nigerian emigrés in America and Canada working menial jobs as they settle into their newly adopted countries.

POSTSCRIPT: Another interesting fact, if this link is to be believed, is that in 1993 there were more than 21,000 practicing Nigerian physicians in the United States. I emphasize "practicing" because it is by no means easy for foreign-trained doctors to gain licenses to practice in the US, which explains why more than a few highly-trained Nigerians end up having to drive taxicabs for a living.

Often, these immigrants are quick to take any employment opportunity that they can get. Although there were about 100,000 highly educated African professionals throughout the United States in 1999,[24] many more are also involved in jobs where less education and often less skill may be required. They work as cab drivers, parking lot attendants, airport workers or waiters, waitresses, and cooks in restaurants.