Africa & Minnesota - Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Africa & Minnesota - Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

African Immigrants in Minnesota IATP

African Immigrants in Minnesota





people & cultures

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African Immigrants in Minnesota IATP

African Immigrants in Minnesota

By Neal Remington

Published October 2008 ©2008 IATP. All rights reserved.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection

of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems.

IATP would like to thank the African Chamber of Commerce, African Development Center, Browse

and Grass Farm Association, Otto Bremer Foundation, Ford Foundation, Jennie-O Turkey Store

(Willmar), Minneapolis Foundation, U CARE, the Main Street Project and Lutheran Social Services

of St. Cloud.

Volunteers: Abby Rogosheske and Neal Remington

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African Immigrants in Minnesota IATP

African Immigrants in Minnesota


Minnesota is home to the United States’ largest population of Somali residents, and has the ninth largest

population of African immigrants nationally. Minnesota has a long history of welcoming refugees and

immigrants since the end of World War II, and has one of the highest rates of immigrant employment

in the country. African immigrants are drawn by an already established immigrant community, a high

level of social benefits, and readily available employment in Minnesota’s rapidly expanding and mostly

rural meat-processing industry. The resettlement of African refugees and immigrants in parts of the state

with little ethnic or racial diversity has often led to cultural clashes, most recently over prayer times at

work and at school.

African Immigrants in Minnesota

Minnesota is home to the United States’ largest population of Somali residents, and has the ninth

largest population of African immigrants nationally. One in five immigrants in Minnesota is African.

Today, various estimates put the number of African immigrants (born in the United States and

abroad) in Minnesota between 70,000 and 80,000. This is more than a tenfold increase since 1990,

when fewer than 5,000 African immigrants were estimated to be living in Minnesota.

Somalis are by far the largest group of African immigrants; studies have estimated that between 1992

and 1999, approximately 29,000 Somalis came to Minnesota. Other African countries with large

populations in Minnesota include Ethiopia, Liberia, Kenya and Nigeria.

African Immigrants in Minnesota

Source: African Nonprofits, 2007

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African Immigrants in Minnesota IATP

Refugee Status

What differentiates African immigrants from other immigrant communities in Minnesota is that a

large percentage are refugees, particularly from Somalia and Liberia.

The collapse of the Somali government in 1991, combined with famine, flood and drought, led to a

sharp increase in the number of Somalis seeking refuge in neighboring countries such as Kenya and


As of 2000, approximately one-third of Minnesota’s Somali residents came directly from refugee

camps; others settled first in another state and then relocated to Minnesota.

When did African immigrants arrive in Minnesota?

Most African refugees arrived in Minnesota between 1990 and 2000. After the attacks of September

11, 2001, and the subsequent economic downturn, refugee arrivals in Minnesota dropped sharply.

However, Minnesota still continues to draw large numbers of African immigrants under family reunification

plans and from other states.

Secondary migration of refugees and immigrants to Minnesota may be a greater factor than primary

migration. The large number of Somali residents in Minnesota has served as a draw for other Somali

immigrants. Generous social benefits, training opportunities and the availability of jobs have

also been a strong incentive for refugees to come to the state. In 1998, the U.S. Office of Refugee

Resettlement reported that Minnesota had the largest net refugee migration gain, principally from

California, Virginia and Texas.

Date of Arrival for African Immigrants

in Minnesota (2006)

Source: Minnesota State Demographic Center, 2006

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African Immigrants in Minnesota IATP

Percent Increase in Foreign Born

Minnesota, 1990-2000

Source: Fennelly, K. (2005)

Why have African immigrants come to Minnesota?

After World War II, Minnesota was one of the first states to respond to the newly established federal

refugee policy under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 by establishing a Citizen’s Committee.

This began a tradition of accepting refugees, and today there are seven voluntary agencies resettling

refugees in the state: Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, Minnesota Council of Churches,

International Institute, World Relief Minnesota, Jewish Family Service, and the Jewish Family and

Children’s Service of Minneapolis.

A second contributing factor to the large increase in African immigrants was the rapidly expanding

economy and strong social services in Minnesota. Between 1990 and 2000, the total population of

Minnesota increased by 12.4 percent—the largest population increase in the history of the state.

Eighty percent of that growth occurred in the Twin Cities metro area. Labor force participation rates

in the state of Minnesota for immigrants are among the highest in the nation.

Where do African immigrants live and work?

Although most Somali and other African immigrants live in the Twin Cities, many are increasingly

located in more rural parts of the state, such as Rochester, Faribault, Owatonna, Pelican Rapids and

Willmar, where they are primarily employed by meat-processing plants. During the past 10-15 years,

rural communities in Minnesota experienced a large influx of immigrants attracted by job prospects

in the food-processing industry.

Meat and poultry processing is a multi-billion dollar business in Minnesota, employing thousands of

people in rural plants scattered across the state, with concentrations in the south-central region. In

1996, the meat industry in Minnesota employed 14,746 workers. Employment in that sector rose

32.3 percent in the state between 1996 and 1998, compared to only 21 percent in the U.S. during

the same period.

Although a number of studies have shown that immigrants do not take jobs away from native-born

U.S. workers, meat-processing firms have implemented a strategy that entails new immigrants relocating

to rural areas, closing unionized plants, re-opening non-union plants and lowering wages to a

level that attracts only immigrant workers.

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African Immigrants in Minnesota IATP

Cultural Integration

Perhaps the most difficult challenge to the social and economic integration of immigrants occurs

in rural areas where there has been little ethnic or racial diversity. The acceptance of newcomers of

any background is notoriously difficult in many such Midwestern communities, and all the more

so for immigrants and refugees. Concurrent with the integration of new immigrants, rural Minnesota

is experiencing a significant out-migration of young people leaving behind an older population

and a declining tax base. As difficult as it is for the older established communities to appreciate the

new immigrants, the new immigrants often arrive after living sometimes decades in refugee camps

and having lost their famlies, friends and possesions. Many new immigrants are left with only their

cultural and religious beliefs, and they find the prospect of integration threatening to their beliefs and



Underutilization of professional skills is a problem for many African immigrants. Professional licenses

obtained abroad are often not recognized in the United States. As a result, many former doctors,

nurses, engineers, teachers and lawyers are earning a living through manual labor, which, while providing

an important service, prevents Minnesota from benefiting from immigrants’ professional skills.

Education Attainment of African Immigrants in Minnesota

Source: Minnesota State Demographic Center, 2006

Other Demographic/Statistical Information

• Thirty-five percent of African immigrants report speaking English less than “very well”

• The unemployment rate for African immigrants is around 11 percent, as compared with a

Minnesota average of 3.7 percent

• Eighty percent report having at least one vehicle

• Average family size: 3.92

• Median household income for African immigrants in Minnesota is $31,640, as compared

with the Minnesota average of $54,000.

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African Immigrants in Minnesota IATP

Ages of African Immigrants in Minnesota

Source: Minnesota State Demographic Center, 2006


Corrie, Bruce P, Daniel Johnson, Mathew Nelson. African Immigrant Capital. 4th Annual Midwest

Multicultural Market Conference. Powerpoint Presentation. March 13, 2008.

Fennelly, K. (2005). Latinos, Asians, Africans in the Northstar State: New Immigrant Communities in

Minnesota. Beyond the Gateway: Immigrants in a Changing America. E. M. Gozdziak and S. F. Martin.

Lanham, MD, Lexington Books.

Fennelly, K. (2008). Prejudice toward immigrants in the Midwest. New Faces in New Places:

The Changing Geography of African Immigration. D. S. Massey. New York, Russell Sage Press.

Fennelly, K. and H. Leitner (2002). How the food processing industry is diversifying rural Minnesota.

JSRI Working Paper WE-59. East Lansing, MI, Michigan State University, Julian Samora Research Institute.

Fernandes, Omar. African Nonprofits 2007. Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, Leadership Empowerment

Development Group. 2007.

Leitner, H. (2000). The Political Economy of International Labor Migration. A Companion to Economic

Geography. E. Sheppard and T. J. Barnes. Oxford, Blackwell.

Minneapolis Foundation, Immigration in Minnesota: Discovering Common Ground. October 2004.

Roningen, Barbara. Estimates of Selected Immigrant Populations in Minnesota. Minnesota State Demographic

Center. June 2004.

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African Immigrants in Minnesota IATP

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2105 First Avenue South | Minneapolis Minnesota 55404 | USA | 612.870.0453 | Fax 612.870.4846 |

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