On the COVID-19 Frontlines: Black Immigrants in Healthcare and Other Essential Industries

Biomedical research

Building on previous NAE research looking at the role of Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, we take a look at the role of the one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the United States today, Black immigrants, in healthcare and other essential industries.

Since 2010, the number of Black immigrants has increased significantly, growing by 30 percent from 3.3 million in 2010 to 4.3 million in 2018. Today, Black immigrants make up more than 1.3 percent of the total U.S. population. As the country continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Black immigrants — immigrants who identify as Black regardless of country or region of birth — are playing an important role on the front lines in healthcare, food supply, education, and biomedical industries.


Black immigrants make up a significant portion of healthcare workers. In 2018, there were more than 560,000 Black immigrant workers in the healthcare sector. These workers made up 3.4 percent of all healthcare workers, a share almost three times their share of the U.S. population. The Black immigrant workers are especially active as health aides and nurses.

  • Almost 211,000 Black immigrants represent 9.4 percent of health aides, a proportion more than 7 times the Black immigrant share of the total U.S. population.
  • Over 145,000 Black immigrants represent 3.9 percent of nurses, a share more than three times the general population share.
  • In the top 10 states (and 11 more) the Black immigrant share of healthcare workers is above the general population share.
  • New York (12.1 percent), Maryland (11.6 percent), and Florida (8.1 percent) top the list of largest shares of Black immigrant healthcare workers.

U.S. Food Supply Chain

In the food industry at large, there are over 223,000 Black immigrant workers.

  • Black immigrant workers are well represented in the food production industry, where almost 39,000 black immigrants make up 2.3 percent of all food production workers.
  • The largest number of Black immigrant workers in the U.S. food supply chain can be found in the food service sector, where just over 117,000 Black immigrants make up 1.2 percent of all workers.

Educational Services

There are over 200,000 Black immigrant workers in the education industry. The largest group of them work in K-12 education, while the sector with the largest share of Black immigrant workers is child day care services.

  • Almost 34,000 Black immigrants work in child care services, representing 2.2 percent of employees.
  • There were almost 95,000 black immigrant workers in K-12 education.

Biomedical Sector

Black immigrant workers are also well represented across all biomedical industries, making up larger shares of the workforce in this sector than their overall share of the U.S. population.

  • 8,000 Black immigrant workers make up 1.6 percent of the workforce in the pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industry.
  • 9,000 Black immigrant workers make up 1.5 percent of the workforce in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing.
  • 20,000 Black immigrant workers make up 2.1 percent of the workforce in pharmacies and drug stores.

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New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…