Back home in Guinea, West Africa, Nasser Diallo had a law degree and a good job working as a political journalist for a radio station. That all came to an end in 2009, he said, when the military abruptly opened fire at a protest he was covering, massacring dozens “until they ran out of bullets.”
Diallo never went home again. Word reached him that the military government was hunting him, he said. Fearing the worst, he fled to Paris, and then to the U.S., where he was granted political asylum. But once here, Diallo’s career stalled. Without university transcripts, he said, he couldn’t find work commensurate with his experience.
“I had to make a very, very tough choice to go back to school and restart from scratch,” says Diallo, 33. “I didn’t have a choice. I was going nowhere. By the time I’m going to graduate, I’ll be maybe 50.”
Diallo is part of America’s rapidly growing population of black immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, many of whom are highly educated and underemployed. Although a handful of states are attempting to help expats like Diallo climb the economic ladder, many African immigrants face obstacles, including obtaining licenses that states require to work in educational, medical and other professions.
At home they were doctors, lawyers, accountants or professors. Here they are cabdrivers, parking lot attendants, cashiers or nannies. They often live in poverty, though, as a group, they are more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher than any other immigrant group, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.