How to Become an Immigration Lawyer in 5 Steps
Research what it takes to become an immigration lawyer. Learn about education and licensure requirements, average salary, and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.
What Is an Immigration Lawyer?
Immigration lawyers specialize in the resolution of legal issues related to immigration, such as naturalization and visa renewal. They must keep themselves informed on new policies and legal changes, many of which come from the federal government. Immigration lawyers may work for a firm or set up their own practice. They may specialize in working with immigrants from a particular country or region so they are able to become experts. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.
|Degree Requirements||Bachelor's degree, Juris Doctor degree|
|Job Responsibilities||Communicate with clients, research cases, write motions and argue in court|
|Licensure||Pass the bar examination in the state where you will practice|
|Job Outlook (2020-2030)||9% for all lawyers*|
|Average Salary (2020)||$148,910 for all lawyers*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Step 1: Research Immigration Lawyer Career Duties and Education
An immigration lawyer enables immigrants to live and work in the U.S. by helping them obtain a green card or visa, gain lawful permanent status, or be granted political asylum. According to Cornell Legal Information Institute, as an immigration lawyer you'll also defend illegal immigrants or help them become naturalized citizens (www.law.cornell.edu). Typical duties will likely include meeting with and interviewing clients, researching cases, writing motions and arguing cases in court. A bachelor's degree, a doctoral degree and a state-issued license to practice law are required to begin practicing as an immigration lawyer.
Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree
Obtaining a 4-year bachelor's degree is the first step you'll need to take to become an immigration lawyer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recommends a multidisciplinary undergraduate education with an emphasis on classes related to communication, research and logic skills (www.bls.gov). Fluency in one or more foreign languages combined with a good understanding of other cultures and of world politics can be vital to an immigration lawyer. For this reason, you might consider majoring or minoring in cultural studies or modern languages in addition to taking courses directly related to pre-law.
Step 3: Graduate from Law School
Next, you must obtain a Juris Doctor degree from an American Bar Association-accredited law school. A high score on your Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and top grades will help you to gain admission into a 3-year law program. You'll take courses covering several subjects for the first year and a half, and will learn how to analyze cases while also studying legal reasoning and constitutional law. At this point you'll declare a concentration in immigration law and take specific courses in that subject.
Step 4: Pass the Bar Exam
You'll need to pass the bar exam to obtain licensure in the state where you intend to practice immigration law. According to the BLS, most states give a 6-hour Multistate Bar Examination, which tests you on several areas of law. A multistate essay exam, an ethics exam and a multistate performance exam may also be required.
Step 5: Join an Immigration Lawyer Association
There is no set path to becoming an immigration lawyer, but there are some resources you can utilize to help you on your journey. You can familiarize yourself with the immigration law community, network with professionals and search for a job by joining the American Immigration Lawyer Association (www.aila.org). By joining your local chapter, you could potentially be put in contact with prospective clients as well as getting to know others working in your field.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
There are many other branches of law that prospective immigration lawyers may be interested in. They could pursue a career in tax law, litigation, in-house counsel, or marriage and family law. They could also become arbitrators or mediators, jobs that involve helping people solve legal issues outside of the court system. Jobs as paralegals and legal assistants are also possibilities.