26. Is it true that 100,000 Copts emigrated in 2011?

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This is a comment on an article with a similar title published on April 13 on a blog called “Salamamoussa. Reclaiming Egypt,” named after Salāmah Mūsá (1887-1958). He was a well-known journalist, writer, and advocate of secularism and Arab socialism who was born into a wealthy, land-owning Coptic family in the town of Al-Zaqāzīq located in the Nile Delta. I also commented on a previous article on American Copts, see here.


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A number of newspaper articles have suggested that over 100,000 Copts have emigrated to North America from Egypt in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution. Surprisingly no one has checked this number in any meaningful way. The Egyptian government is of no help in this matter and one must seek the answer in a combination of indirect numbers and mathematical models.
CH: It would have been more precise if Salamamoussa would have mentioned the press release of Coptic human rights activist Najīb Jibrā’īl, which has been picked up by a number of newspapers. I contacted Najīb Jibrā’īl who told me over the telephone that his sources were Coptic activists living in several Western countries. None of this is based on research. These numbers are all inflated estimates of a group of activists with who Najīb Jibrā’īl has contact. It is true that the Egyptian government appears rather helpless in the face of all sorts of ridiculous claims that are made left and right, including Najīb Jibrā’īl’s.
Najīb Jibrā’īl has been criticized for this by Yousef Sidom, Editor-in-Chief of Watani. Sīdhum: “Najīb Jibrā’īl is not telling the truth. Many foreign media outlets have called me about this. I wonder—how is it possible that people accept such a text that does not mention its sources? We at Watani have tried to investigate this.” Sīdhum then explains what they have done and concluded that Najīb Jibrā’īl’s figures are much too high. Sīdhum also does not believe the number of Copts to be 16 percent of the Egyptian population (approximately 13 million people). He rather believes it to be closer to 10 percent. See: Arab-West Report, “Christian leader: No fear for Islamist landslide in Egypt”, January 1, 2012.
I have good reason to believe that also the proportion of 10 percent is too high. It is more likely to be around six percent (see the research of Dr. Philippe Fargues). I did an interview with him for Arab-West Report and we now also have a student intern working with us who looks at where Najīb Jibrā’īl’s claims have been reported. Guess what? It is rooted primarily in electronic publications with a strong Islamophobic character.

It is assumed that the vast majority of these immigrants left for the US. We can try to estimate the number of Egyptians arriving into the US as a lower bound on the number. We can use the US immigration figures and a set of simple models to estimate the numbers of potential Egyptian immigrants, which includes of course both Muslims and Copts. In the year 2011 the US awarded about 1 Million “green cards”. Egyptian immigrants are about 10% of all African immigrants. The US census indicates that “others” account for 38% of all immigrants in the US. “Others” means countries outside Mexico,Central America and East Asia. That means the maximum number of African continent immigrants who obtained a green card in 2011 is 380,000, and the probable number is less than half of that, since South Asia and Europe typically have larger numbers than Africa. If Africa contributed about 200,000 green cards in 2011, and if Egypt is typically 10% of Africa, then the number of Egyptians could not have exceeded 20,000. The number of Copts would have to be less than that.
I checked the sources Salamamoussa provided and did not find the 1 million green cards provided in 2011. But, I did find that the most recent estimates put the number of African foreign born at over 1 million, according to Elizabeth Grieco of the Migration Policy Institute in September 2004. Of this 1 million, 20% came from North Africa. The American Community Survey publishes a limited amount of country-specific data on the foreign born from Africa. In 2002, there were approximately 108,000 people born in Egypt living in the U.S., 10.7 percent of all African foreign born living in the U.S. It is indeed highly unlikely that the number of Egyptian born would have increased so much. I thus do not disagree with the estimate through the calculation provided by Salamamoussa, but what really needs to be done is to ask the American Community Survey for an overview of the change in Egyptian born throughout the years.
One or course cannot rule out the possibility that many Copts immigrated using green cards awarded prior to 2011. However, US residency requirements are such that this number cannot add more than a factor of 2. The maximum number of Copts immigrating to the US in 2011 according to this model is 40,000.
CH: It is unclear to me to what U.S. residency requirements Salamamoussa is referring.
There is also another measure of the size of this immigration. Most Copts upon arriving in the US join a local parish. The Coptic population is concentrated in a few states. A cursory survey of a few parishes in such areas as New York, New Jersey reveals no unusual number of new immigrants. If 100,000 new Coptic immigrants arrived in the US, one would expect roughly 25% to be in the New York area, and a similar fraction in Southern California and other Southern states. There is simply no indication that Coptic parishes are receiving such a large influx of Copts.
CH: It would be interesting to know what Salamamoussa’s sources are. The statement does not seem to be illogical, but it would be nice to have more details.
In the absence of exact and reliable numbers one has to rely on models and extrapolated numbers. Even under the most generous estimates the number of 100,000 Copts arriving in North America during 2011 seems highly unlikely.
CH: I definitely agree with Salamamoussa’s conclusion.
Someone named Nevine wrote on April 13:
I agree that the 100,000 figure is highly unlikely but just wanted to note that among the people I know, most who left Egypt in the past year, went to Canada, not the US. Also, the majority of them already had green cards or Canadian “landings” from before 2011. They decided to move their families there because of the deteriorating situation in Egypt. Without the rise of Islamist rule, I think most of these people would’ve stayed in Egypt. In many cases, the men have moved their wives and children to Canada while remaining in Egypt themselves for work.
CH: This could very well be true.
Salamamoussa responded:
April 17, 2012 at 12:03 am
Mr Hulsman, as usual, is very thorough. Here are the relevant sources:
1- Distribution of Copts in the US follows the number of parishes, weighed by their relative sizes. Some parishes in some states are really very small. The best place to look is coptic church.net as well as personal contacts with various priests.
2- As far as US residency, the US demands that a holder of a “Green Card” (or Resident Alien) must spend a certain fraction of time in the US and also can not stay away from US soil for longer than 1 year. Basically, as a practical matter, a person must reside in the US for at least 2-3 months every year, or lose the Green Card. Given the cost of travel it is difficult to believe that holders of a Green Card are shuttling back and forth to Egypt for short bursts. Most get one or two chances to come to the US, “test the water”, and then decide to stay or not. So a factor of 2 more holders than immigrants is a rough but not unreasonable factor. One respondent, Nevine, points out that the rules for Canada are different and there maybe more Egyptians immigrating to Canada. Her point is well taken.

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