Why high educated in the U.S are low paid

​African migration to the U.S has drastically increased the recent years. And despite of dreams and high education many Africans are low paid and not integrated in their new country. The NGO African Advocacy Network in San Francisco is working to implement a change but asks for unity amongst Africans.


“Immigration process is easier if you join a family member. But from what I see with my clients it's definitely harder to integrate as an adult and to accept your new reality. I have clients that had high paid jobs back home, and they come here and they don't have anything. And they have to rely on public assistance until they can get on their feet," says Clementine Ntshaykolo. She was born in Congo and moved to the U.S to join the rest of her family. She works today as the fund development manager for the African Advocacy Network. The NGO, situated in San Francisco, provides legal assistance and social services to the Afro-Caribbean and African immigrants, refugees and asylees in San Francisco Bay Area and the greater Bay Area.

19 percent of African immigrants live on at or below the poverty line. The case is 13 percent for native born Americans respectively 16 percent for all foreign born. Many Africans support themselves on low-paid service professions such as taxi drivers or cleaners. Despite of high education African-born immigrants in the U.S struggle to find professional employment corresponding to their education.

“You're not going to get anywhere with no education and you'll have to reeducate yourself in the U.S again how unfortunately it may seem. Your prospect is much better than for the person who has no education at all," Adoubou Traore interposes.

His colleague Charles Jackson knows how difficult it can be after obtaining an American diploma. As an immigrant from Liberia he came to the U.S with a prestigeful scholarship from Stanford university. “If you come by your own, you're by your own. By the end of my scholarship the U.S was done with me. I had to think of how I wanted to pursue with my life," says Charles Jackson. He is today specialized in immigration law and works as a paralegal for the organisation.

Africans in California

The number of African residents in the U.S has increased drastically with 80 percent since year 2000. In 2012, the foreign born population in California reached just over ten millions and the state has, after New york, the largest group of Africans. Recent migration from Africa remains yet small in comparison to other migration. Africans make though less than two percent of total foreign born population.

The exact number of Africans is however unknown due to what Clementine Ntshaykolo refers to as “statistical ignorance". She says that the African population in the U.S needs to be recognized. AAN is today the only African delegated immigration legal service provider in the entire northern California. Clementine Ntshaykolo demands for a nuanced perspective on the American migration.

“We are so used to the hispanic and asian population in California. As black I'm grouped with the African- Americans and it's partially because I speak English. But what do you do with those who don't know English? AAN not only serves the need of the African community but it also shows our presence here. We are the only African organisation whenever we go to a public official meeting. Not even the state of California knows how many Africans there are here. So how can they help?"


Before the growing diaspora in the U.S, Africans usually emigrated to Europeans countries in which they had colonial bonds to. The African migration to the U.S started first to peak with the European Union's implementation of the Schengen agreement and other stricter immigration policies. It became easier to go to the U.S than Europe.

“As a black in Europe nobody will assume that you originally come from there. In France the police can go after an African and ask for papier. Whereas in the U.S the police wouldn't dare to do so of fear for targeting an African American. Most Africans without papers can go for several years unnoticed in the U.S. It is a bit “safer" so be a black immigrant here than in Europe," says Adoubou Traore.

However, the grouping with African-American has made it harder to understand the problems many African immigrants face. “It's hard to find statistics on Africans in America. We are put together with African Americans but this isn't fair to us. We come to a country in which we have different conditions than the African- American. They're Americans and we are Africans. The only thing connecting us is the race. But you don't see Mexicans lumped together with South- Americans. Or that all Asians would be Chinese- Americans," says Adoubou Traore.


A large group of Africans are found in the Bay Area, where AAN works. As much as the organisation encourages Africans to celebrate their culture, Clementine Ntshaykolo believe that a strong homogenous community can hinder Africans from pursuing a better life.

“Go to Oakland and you will see how diverse but within that diversity many Africans haven't integrated. Some of them get stuck in what we call, I hate to use the term because it has negative connotation, but African community. They tell themselves that they are doing more than they're actually doing. The women work with braiding hair and the men as security guards. Very minimal jobs. They tell themselves that they will never be able to become more than what they are. They almost internalize racism or what they perceive to be racism. I will never be promoted because I'm African. Braiding or working in security is not bad but why settle with the lowest? Why not then go to trainings in these domains, get a higher education in your field."

Her collague Charles Jackson agrees. “Many get demotivated by having a high education and still getting a good job here. We have to change our mentality. It requires that we start all over again before we can reach the same level we had back home. There are certain things we need to do to be able to reach our dream," says.

Longing home

Adobou Traore says that it is very easy to fall in a trap with the low paid jobs. He says that the five first years are crucial in determining one's path. It is easy to be fooled by the first earned money and the pride of supporting the family back home. Many Africans are embarrassed to admit that they haven't managed in the “land of opportunity."

“The money made here is a lot when compared to what you make in Africa. Even when you have a low- paid job. When you call back home and tell the people they're of course impressed. Your daily salary could be worth a month's salary in Africa! But it's a false image Africans here sent to Africans back home. But what he failed to mention is the living costs in America, rent and bills. With a low- paid job you don't have much left."

Adobou Traore calls for a unity amongst Africans. He believes that it can be a start to better conditions for emigrated Africans. “We Africans are not even united amongst ourselves. We concentrate so much on the differences. Shade of skin, tribe, culture, politics. Those things may matter in Africa, but not here. Here, we have two things in common. We are Africans and we're not home."

Text by...

Sumbu Temo

27 years old journalist student and dreamer from Stockholm