Historically, very few immigrants came from the North African Arab countries of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Instead, people from these countries migrated to Europe, especially France, whose government had colonized most of these countries. Therefore, many North Africans speak French. Most came after the U.S. eased its immigration policies in 1965. Some came as students and stayed, others came as immigrants seeking better opportunities.

Immigration from Sudan and Somalia to the United States paralleled immigration from some other Arab countries. Between the 1950s and 1980s, a few came as students. In the 1990s, the numbers increased dramatically as people were escaping wars and starvation.

However, the very first documented Sudanese, Sati Majid, came as early as 1904. He became famous for converting thousands of African Americans to Islam. After Sudan achieved independence in 1956, educated Sudanese started to come seeking higher education. While most returned, some did stay. The most significant Sudanese wave of immigration occurred in the 1990s, when decades of civil war reached a climax and Sudanese faced economic and political hardships. The Somali civil war and starvation devastated the country in the 1990s and brought a larger number of refugees to the United States.

Similarly a small number of immigrants came from Somalia before 1965. With the ease of immigration laws more immigrants arrived. Students came to study, and some found jobs and stayed. But with the civil war and starvation that divested the country in the 1990s a larger number of refugees arrived. Today, Somali communities are emerging in the Midwest cities especially in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota. Some settled in large cities like Washington, New York and Boston.