Why Your Taxi Driver May be a Civil Engineer from Eritrea

Producer Luke Quinton looks into African immigrants in the United States and the gap between their education and job opportunities.

By Luke QuintonMay 21, 2015 9:02 am

Last December, Quinton took a taxi to the Austin airport. He and the driver got to talking. the driver mentioned he was from Eritrea, in Africa. They spoke about his country’s ongoing fight with Ethiopia. It was a war Quinton had never heard of, and a war on few Americans’ radars.

It got Quinton thinking about African immigrants in this country. He tried to track down his airport ride cabbie, but when he called the owner of the cab company, the owner said he had 100 guys from Sub-Saharan Africa. Maybe 200.

Quinton spoke with Adell Asmelash, a 33-year-old native Eritrean, current cab-driver and former civil engineer about his experience sifting through the U.S. job market in vain. He also spoke with Teresa Wiltz, who writes about this new wave of migrants for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ journalism project. She said Asmelash’s plight isn’t unique.

Texas has about, as of 2013, 160,000 African Immigrants, primarily from Africa and Kenya. That represents a staggering 148 percent increase since 2000.

“They’re coming from all over sub-saharan Africa,” Wiltz says. “The lead countries are Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, and they’re coming for a variety of reasons.”

In part, they’re coming because U.S. immigration policy keeps the doors open for many African immigrants through what’s commonly known as a ‘Diversity Visa.’

Listen to the full story in the audio above.