Living as an African immigrant in the U.S. has its price; not many expected what they met until they see it firsthand. While this may look daunting to aspiring immigrants, history is filled with challenges confronting foreigners on American soil as it is in other countries accepting aliens. With regards to living in America, the country still stands out as the land of immigrants; giving its historical past and possibility for immigrants to become respected personalities in the country. It is a country where people who came as visitors rise to become eminent citizens who can aspire to any position they can dream of becoming.
America has from inception been a land of opportunities and challenges for immigrants. Since the 1790s to the present moment, immigrants have faced different forms of problems, especially in the economic front. Accounts of immigration into the United States show a spectrum of attitudes towards immigrants ranging from a hostile disposition to accommodation. However, many immigrants who have suffered discrimination and hostile policy in the U.S. at the early stage of their arrival are today among the well established, hyphenated citizens such as Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Chinese-American, Indian-America and Polish-American among many other immigrants who have gone through Americanization and are fully assimilated into American culture and pursuing the American Dream.
While immigration issues in America date back over two hundred years, African immigrant is a recent event outside the forced labor that took Africans to the U.S. during the slave trade era. As a result, two sets of Africans exist in the US today: African Americans and African Immigrants. As it is for every foreign national on the America soil, African immigrants are facing the same challenges which they are expected to overcome and properly establish their foothold in the country and be Americanized like those before them.
Challenges facing African immigrants in the US
There are myriads of problems confronting African immigrants; I am going to touch on five crucial ones; I am not saying others aren’t important, but the ones to discuss here are so crucial that not many immigrants can escape them. These challenges are as follow:
1. Language problem
Language is a significant challenge facing African immigrants today. This has been an issue since the history of US immigration that President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States said: “every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country.”
Today, only the Anglophone African immigrants may not have this challenge; even at that, the issue of the native speaker is a headache when taking up jobs requiring the use English, such as writing, or journalism as the Anglophone Africans are regarded as second speakers of the English language despite English being their official language.
The way out of the language barrier is for non-English speaking African immigrants are to take language lesson and live in communities where the English language is widely spoken. Of course, this problem would not extend to immigrants children for long as long as they attend schools and interact with other kids in the neighborhood.
2. Employment challenge
Both skilled and unskilled African immigrants have problems securing jobs. Contrary to immigrants’ expectations and beliefs, they soon realize how difficult it can be to land a job even as a legal immigrant. Unfortunately, African qualification is not readily acceptable for employment in the U.S. this is because of differences in the school curriculum and focus of education policies between America and African countries. Also, there are underlining policy issues that seem to discriminate between immigrants and US citizens. As a result of job scarcity, some African immigrants are left with no option than to accept jobs with unfair pay and questionable work condition.
There are different ways to solve unemployment issue in the U.S. you can refer to the discussion “What career strategy should African Immigrant consider?” published earlier in our career series to learn how to find yourself a well paying job in the country. You can also start any job now and plan to start a business which gives you a guarantee to provide for your economic needs while providing jobs for other. Read “Ten business opportunities to consider as an African in the US” if you wish to start a business.
3. Putting your kid in school as an African immigrant
There is hardly a better way to secure the future of your family in America than to have your children school in the country; however, many immigrants’ kids cannot be formally enrolled in school because their parents don’t have the required legal right to do that. Another immediate problem is language; unless you are from an English speaking country, many immigrants’ children find it difficult to cope, and this significantly affects their performance in school.
When you arrived in the U.S., it is advisable to settle in a community where the English language is the predominant medium of communication. When your kids interact with other kids in the neighborhood, they can quickly pick up the words and start communicating fluently with time. You might want to hire an English home teacher if you can afford it for English language communication tutorial for your children.
4. Accessing essential services
Medical, legal transportation services are indeed a hard nut to crack for many African immigrants because of documentation issues. The U.S. runs highly regulated health services where every citizen is required to have health insurance and only citizens, and legal immigrants can access it. During the early stages of every immigrant, the process of perfecting their papers often makes them vulnerable and denies them access to essential services. Many undocumented immigrants are afraid of deportation and forced to live underground. It is during this period that many immigrants are exploited since they are afraid to report any maltreatment to the authority.
African immigrants should remember that being an immigrant is not a crime as long as you abide by the law and never do anything that may harm your host country. Start regularizing your immigration documents as soon as possible and make sure to work with the right immigration lawyer who can have your back when you run into trouble. What immigrants should understand is that there are over 86 million immigrants, accounting for about 27 percent of over 300 million US populations, in the US. Therefore you are not alone and don’t feel stranded because you are not! There are immigration lawyers and rights group who are interested in your case to ensure you get justice all the way.
5. Credential recognition
Employers in the U.S. do not recognize most credentials African immigrants present as a qualification to seek employment. It is not because African credentials are inferior, it just that they are unfamiliar with African institutions who awarded these certificate. This is also due to discrimination and exploitation of most employers. When frustrated, much African immigrant recourse to low paying jobs or takes up menial works to survive.
One way to solve credential recognition challenge is to seek the service of credential evaluation service who will evaluate your qualification and give you a report which the employer understand and help them to recognize your certificates. If you hold a professional qualification, find out the requisite skill in the US and write such test to get the US recognized certification. You may consider a career change if necessary. I know people who had to undergo nursing training to get a job.
No matter the challenge facing aliens in the U.S. and indeed African Immigrants, there is no better solution than for Africans to see a fellow African as a brother and sister to be supported because the spirit that keeps African people going despite our numerous challenges will always count in your favor.
In his classic statement, the great Emperor Haile Selassie said: “History teaches us that unity is strength and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals, to strive, with all our combined power, for the path to true African brotherhood and unity.”
Nothing can overcome the African resolve to achieve a monumental goal if they work together; those who have the resources should create job, those with capacity need to start African immigrants’ reorientation to de-educate Africans coming to America to jettison attitudes incongruent with American dream and work as one to achieve the goals that brought them to America. That will be the ultimate solution to solve the challenges facing Africans in America.
Mikhail is a content creator, a digital marketer, and an entrepreneur. He studied Political Science at the University of Ilorin Nigeria.