Chasing the Dream:Economic Challenges Black Immigrants Face in the 21st Century

All immigrants to the United States have a shared story of struggle. They all know how difficult it is to try to navigate a foreign linguistic, political, cultural and economic system, in search of basic necessities.  And, while most Black immigrants come to the U.S. in search of better economic opportunities, many are ill prepared for the enormity of economic challenges they are sure to face.  Historically, European immigrants were able to gain citizenship, access jobs, and move up the economic ladder with relative ease.  In the case of many Black immigrants, several of the immigrant friendly policies and programs that aided other immigrants have been drastically changed or eliminated. Black immigrants, unlike their European counterparts also have to contend with inter and intra group prejudice and discrimination, aimed at them for simply being Black in America, as well as from not being Black enough in some cases.


Stereotypes and misconceptions oftentimes restrict Black immigrants’ full acceptance into the workforce. Cultural barriers, identity complexes, and preconceived notions increase the distance between many Black immigrants and their Black American counterparts. Limited knowledge or trust of institutions and organizations stifle access to much needed resources. And, financial obligations to extended families in their respective homelands coupled with the exorbitant fees associated with the Immigration and Naturalization processes, force many Black immigrants to consider risky alternatives as a means to survive. Furthermore, the conditions upon which Black immigrants arrive, documented v. undocumented, educated v. non-educated, and refugee v. non refugee, have strong correlations to where they likely fall on the socio-economic status spectrum. In this article, we highlight some of these economic challenges to bring light to this often overlooked population.

The majority of Black Immigrants come from the Caribbean and African continent; as such there is a dearth of data regarding Afro-Latinos.  Most recent Black immigrants enter the United States legally, seeking education and job opportunities either by joining immediate relatives who are U.S. citizens or by presenting student or tourist visas with an expiration date. Studies show that the majority of undocumented Blacks of Caribbean origins come from the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Haiti. The number of undocumented Africans approximates four times the number of those with legal statuses. Those that are categorized as undocumented tend to fall out of status by overstaying their visas.


As is the case with most immigrants, the Black immigrants that face the largest hurdles in the immigration system are generally those fleeing from poverty or strife in their own economically unstable countries. They tend to have a harder time demonstrating their intent to return after visiting the U.S., particularly if they do not own property or a bank account in their homeland. These challenges, along with historic and present day immigration “quotas”, add to the tedium of this process. For these reasons, many choose to relocate without proper documentation, unaware of how difficult it is to exist in a country where you are considered a non entity without a legal status.


There are clear educational differences amongst Black immigrant groups. During the sixties, those who migrated from English speaking Caribbean countries, like Jamaica or Trinidad, tended to have education levels above the average citizen of their native country. For, non-English speaking Caribbean countries like the Dominican Republic, immigrants to the U.S. were generally less educated than the average person in their native country.  Currently, the pattern in the education levels of most Caribbean Black immigrants mimics those of non-English speaking Caribbean countries of the sixties. African immigrants, on the other hand, tend to have education levels above the average citizen of their native countries regardless of language. Cultural barriers also play a significant role in how quickly Black immigrants acculturate to American society. Many feel a sense of identity loss, as they are most often lumped into the generic “Black/African American” racial/ethnic group. 


The majority of Black Caribbean refugees originate from Cuba and Haiti. Haitians were granted either Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Cubans received provisional admission vis-à-vis the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 or the Cuban Migration Act of 1994. Most African refugees, come to the US seeking refuge or asylum from oppression and poverty in their homelands. While various programs and organizations are available to help with readjustment, life as a refugee is riddled with cultural and psychological shocks that oftentimes impact development and growth.


As Black immigrants Chase their Dreams, they face tremendous economic challenges. Recent Black immigrants entered an American economy that offered less economic opportunity than it had for the European immigrant of the early 20th century. In this unique situation, it is important for Black immigrants to seek collaborations with organizations advocating for greater immigrant rights, economic opportunity and racial equity in order to find their deserved place in their new home. In our next article, we will offer recommendations on advancing social and economic justice in the 21st century.


Disclaimer: Due to the overal lack of statistical information on Afro Latinos, much of this information is missing from this article.