How to Become an
Immigration Lawyer

Couple talking to a man with a laptop in an office

If you’re interested in a career as an Immigration Lawyer, then you’ll want to keep reading. This guide will help you learn about the duties and responsibilities of an Immigration Lawyer, the educational requirements needed for the position, the median salary and much more.

What Does an Immigration Lawyer Do?

Immigration Lawyers handle a variety of issues on their clients’ behalf, including obtaining U.S. citizenship, acquiring immigrant or resident visas, filing for political asylum and defending against deportation. Immigration Lawyers often work in law offices, either as a partner in a firm, as an independent private practice or as a government employee, while others perform their duties inside the courtroom as client representatives.

Being an Immigration Lawyer requires a thorough understanding of policy as well as excellent communication skills. Some common Immigration Lawyer duties and responsibilities include:

  • Technical tasks, such as filing immigration paperwork and filing motions

  • Client-based tasks, such as appearing in court and providing legal counsel

  • Research-based tasks, such as collecting and thoroughly analyzing the necessary data for each case

Immigration Lawyer Skills

In addition to extensive legal knowledge and specialized training, Immigration Lawyers must also have superb communication skills, especially when it comes to interacting with clients from different countries and cultures, many of whom may not be fluent in English. Immigration Lawyers frequently work with clients who are faced with extremely high-stakes situations, and thus must be able to patiently communicate and gather information even when their clients are anxious, frustrated and scared. Additionally, since Immigration Lawyers handle cases whose success is dependent on the smallest of details, they must also be able to work precisely and meticulously under strong pressure and strict deadlines.

Some other key Immigration Lawyer skills include:

  • A high level of organization

  • Calm and pleasant demeanor under stressful conditions

  • Attention to detail

  • Ability to navigate complicated legal processes

How Do You Become an Immigration Lawyer?

Education and Training

Immigration lawyers, just like all other lawyers, must earn a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university as well as a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school. Most, but not all, law schools require incoming students to pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) before enrolling, so you’ll want to start preparing for the LSAT well before you complete your bachelor’s degree. After passing the LSAT and being admitted into law school, you’ll likely be required to take general courses for the first year, while in the last two years you’ll be able to focus on immigration law and take courses that directly pertain to that field.

Additionally, all lawyers must pass their state’s bar exam in order to become licensed and begin working with clients. The bar exam varies by state, and is usually administered over the course of a three-day period. Very few law schools offer courses specifically geared towards passing the bar exam, so it would be a good idea to take a bar exam course prior to graduation from a third-party company. Click here to find out more information about the bar exam in your state.

Other than formal education and licensing, employers also look for factors such as practical experience as well as skills that are preferred but not necessarily required. In order to boost your chances of landing a position as an Immigration Lawyer, try to find internships with law firms that specialize in immigration issues or with relevant government agencies, such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or other branches of the Department of Homeland Security. To really give yourself and your resume an edge, you should consider learning a non-English language if you don’t speak one already.

Finding a Job

The demand for lawyers of all kinds, including Immigration Lawyers, is steadily increasing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of lawyers will increase by 6% between 2014-2024, which translates to 43,800 available positions. However, it should be noted that the competition for these positions is likely to increase as well, so if you want to become an Immigration Lawyer, you’ll need to focus on setting yourself apart from the competition.

The first and perhaps most essential step to setting yourself apart is creating a professional, compelling resume to underscore your education, training, achievements and experience. For examples and ideas that can help you create the best resume possible, check out JobHero’s library of Immigration Lawyer resume samples.

After completing your resume, find out what’s available by searching online for open positions. When considering which positions to apply to, make sure to utilize the network you’ve built up over the years--classmates from law school, any firms or organizations you may have interned with and Immigration Lawyers you know personally.

Finally, when applying for positions, prepare a cover letter which will express your personal reasons for becoming an Immigration Lawyer, the highlights of your experience and what you’ll bring to the table should you fill the position. Check out our Lawyer cover letter sample for inspiration.

Insights from an Immigration Lawyers

Read on to discover what Immigration Lawyers have to say about their profession. Get the perspective from someone on the field and learn more about being an Immigration Lawyer.

What is the common career path for an Immigration Lawyer?

People interested in being an Immigration lawyer must complete three years of law school after completing an undergraduate degree in criminal justice or related fields.

What should someone consider before becoming an Immigration Lawyer?

An Immigration Lawyer must always be updating his knowledge base because regulations and policies can change in the blink of an eye. Research is key to know how to go about certain regulations and policies. If you enjoy this type of environment then you are in the correct career path.

What type of person excels in this job?

Some of the most important qualities a good Immigration Lawyer has is a good eye for detail, strong communication skills, creative problem-solving abilities, and perseverance.

What are some of the most important skills for Immigration Lawyers to have?

Good judgment, creative solution problem-solving abilities, excellent communication skills with customers, the ability to speak in public, compassion and good people skills.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being an Immigration Lawyer?

One of the most important aspects of becoming an Immigration Lawyer is the wide range of career options you have at your disposal in the public or private sector. This comes with great financial and emotional rewards. Another great benefit of becoming a lawyer is the mental stimulus that comes with the job and the skills gained that transfer to alternative career paths.

How Much do Immigration Lawyers Get Paid?

Lawyers, including Immigration Lawyers, are usually paid either on an hourly basis or on a flat fee basis. Lawyers in the United States earn an hourly median wage of $55.69, with the lowest paid lawyers earning $26.86 per hour and the highest paid lawyers earning $90 or more per hour.

Top 10 States for Immigration Lawyer Salary

Lawyers, including Immigration Lawyers, in the following ten states make the highest median hourly wage in the United States.

    District of Columbia

    $76.29

    California

    $70.22

    New York

    $64.72

    Delaware

    $64.58

    Massachusetts

    $63.89

    New Jersey

    $61.88

    Connecticut

    $61.57

    Virginia

    $59.25

    Texas

    $58.26

    Pennsylvania

    $54.31

    Immigration Lawyer Resources

    We assembled this list of additional resources to help you continue exploring your career as an Immigration Lawyer.

    Immigration Lawyer Industry Groups

    American Immigration Lawyers Association
    This association is made up of over 14,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. AILA provides legal education, information and multiple other services to Immigration Lawyers across the country. The association offers discounted membership rates for law students, new members, and lawyers employed by nonprofit organizations.

    National Immigration Law Center
    The NILC is dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants. They not only employ a team of lawyers, but also offer training as well as fellowship and internship programs.

    The Federal Bar Association
    This association consists of more than 18,000 federal lawyers. The FBA engages in federal issues, keeps its members up to date on current events, provides scholarship and educational opportunities, provides a social platform for lawyers and judges, and hosts events across the country. Additionally, they have a separate Immigration Law Section that has its own resources and private discussion group.

    Immigration Lawyer Blogs

    The U.S. Immigration Law Blog
    This blog, written by Ashwin Sharma of the Sharma Law Office, publishes news, commentary and updates on U.S. Immigration policy.

    Hunton Immigration & Nationality Law Blog
    This blog, by the Hunton & Williams LLP Immigration Practice, publishes news and updates relevant to current immigration law issues.

    Immigration Lawyer Books

    Strategies & Tactics for the MBE
    This guide is full of advice and strategies for passing the Multistate Bar Exam, and also contains a full-length practice exam.

    Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell
    This book overviews nearly every aspect of immigration law, from history to administrative process.

    Information sources for this article include the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources.