President Joe Biden’s new and historic executive order signed this week includes a measure that could bring what African and tech policy experts hope will be economic and educational benefits to immigrants from the continent.
In the first-ever presidential order targeting the swiftly advancing artificial intelligence industry, Biden calls for the secretary of Homeland Security to “review and initiate” any policy changes that could “clarify and modernize immigration pathways for experts in AI and other critical and emerging technologies.”
The order calls for Homeland Security to consider pathways to the U.S. for immigration statuses including noncitizens of exceptional abilities, advanced-degree holders, and entrepreneurs.
Biden also ordered a public report to be conducted with data on how experts in AI and other technologies have utilized the immigration system.
“What is integral to this country is making sure that we continue to be a place that people seek to come to make a contribution here, but also to realize their full potential,” Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, told theGrio.
“AI is an exciting place to come do that,” she said. “The president’s taking the action that makes it a little bit easier for that to happen.”
On a continent with an average age of 18 and an advancing tech industry, experts say the possibilities for the U.S. and Africa are endless.
“Africa is projected to be 2 billion people by 2050, making every one out of four of the global community, an African,” said Almaz Negash, founder and executive director of the African Diaspora Network.
She told theGrio, “That is an asset given that most African immigrants in the USA have strong educational backgrounds in fields like computer science, engineering, and medicine, represent a valuable and potentially underutilized talent pool.”
Joseph Tolton, an African diaspora activist and founder of the Pan-African advocacy organization Interconnected Justice, said Biden’s focus on immigration and AI is a “real opportunity for Africans to find a pathway to this country.”
“They’re going to come and study and train and learn and be able to bring their own hunger and interest around this field and their own intellectual capacity,” he added.
A. Prince Albert III, president and CEO of the social entrepreneurship consulting firm Goldwater Ventures, told theGrio that Biden’s order on AI and immigration would be “vital” in Africa, where there are several tech hubs in countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
“Africa is not just a resource to pillage from, but is really a continent to empower,” said Albert, “because there are so many really, really cool technologies coming out of Africa that can help us here.”
Albert, who holds a law degree in technology and telecommunications from Georgetown University, noted that there are agricultural technologies coming out of Africa that could be exported to the U.S. to “make our food creation more viable.”
Rather than the historical “extraction” and “manipulating” of Africa’s human and natural resources that continues to plague parts of the continent, Albert said creating more pathways through AI could empower the more than 1 billion Africans, while also aiding the U.S. in helping to “change the world.”
“The United States needs to ally itself with that kind of growth by really empowering people with opportunity,” he added.
Tolton noted that this new potential opportunity for African immigrants comes on the heels of last year’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, where the Biden-Harris administration signaled it is thinking about a “pipeline” for African talents.
“There was a big emphasis, of course, on trade and industry, but…there was a really big emphasis on the creative industries because Africa is… becoming a bit of a production hub,” he shared. “The administration went out of its way to create forums to really allow that interaction and engagement and cross-selling to be expanded.”
Tolton added, “I think that there’s an opportunity here now for them to do the same thing as it relates to AI.”
Negash said concerns about the “brain drain” in Africa is a legitimate concern; however, she said it could also be seen as an opportunity.
“The departure of talented African professionals from their home countries can have economic implications, but it also offers the potential for ‘brain gain,’” she said, “where knowledge is exchanged for the mutual benefit of both Africa and the USA.”
Albert of Goldwater Ventures called for the U.S. to provide educational and certification opportunities. He noted that Google opened a certification program during the COVID-19 pandemic to “retool” the U.S. job economy.
“A comprehensive tooling or strategic implementation of programs for free throughout Africa is really important,” he said.
Ultimately, he said, Africa’s infrastructure is prime for this moment. Due to its ruralness, Africa, which did not experience an industrial revolution, has avoided “pitfalls” experienced in the U.S., such as “intense gentrification” and “environmental disruptions.”
As a result, Africa is “still in somewhat rural places with very light infrastructure,” which has allowed it to advance in its tech production, including “leapfrogging into like 5G,” said Albert.
He added, “Africa is going to be vital for the U.S. economy to rebound and…take first place over a rising China and rising others.”
Negash cautioned that for “this ecosystem to truly thrive,” however, the U.S. must ensure its immigration policies are “fair and accessible,” particularly for African immigrants.
“Often, conversations about immigrant rights in the USA do not adequately encompass the experiences of Black immigrants from the African continent,” she added.
“Opening the AI sector to African immigrants is a promising opportunity that can bring numerous advantages,” said Negash, “but it must be supported by fair immigration policies and a commitment to addressing the unique challenges faced by this community.”
Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.
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