What Education Is Needed to Become an Immigration Lawyer?

Aspiring lawyers looking to study immigration law should be prepared to focus on people moving into the United States from other countries. Like other lawyers, immigration lawyer education and training is extensive and takes quite a while to complete. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Immigration Lawyer Job Description

Immigration lawyers are attorneys who specialize in the law surrounding immigration and permanent travel between countries. Their work can help refugees to seek asylum, obtain legal residency status for individuals in the country on work visas, or prove the need for those work visas on behalf of corporations.

Immigration Lawyer Requirements

Individuals hoping to become immigration lawyers should be able to write and speak both clearly and accurately. They should have an intuitive understanding of how to perform research in support of their arguments, and must have the problem-solving abilities necessary to find a solution to any situation in which their clients might find themselves. They should be personable and professional, able to make a connection with their client, the judge, and a jury, should one be present. For immigration lawyers in particular, knowledge of a language other than English would be highly recommended, since immigrants may speak little or no English. A functional knowledge of world history can help to provide some context for why an immigrant may be attempting to move to the US.

In order to practice law, a lawyer will need to join the Bar organization in the state where they will practice. Bar organization requirements may vary, but most will require proof of a degree, a background check to prove upstanding moral character, and their social security number (or receive an exemption, if they do not have one). Lawyers must remain in good standing with the state Bar in order to continue practicing, which includes payment of any required dues.

How Long Does it Take to Become an Immigration Lawyer?

In order to become an immigration lawyer, it is necessary to complete a 4-year bachelor's degree, as well as a 3-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, following the exact same steps to become a lawyer of any other variety. After completing the necessary immigration lawyer education, graduates will have to pass the bar exam in order to receive a license to practice law.

Earning an Immigration Law Degree

The first step in becoming an immigration lawyer is to earn a bachelor's degree. While pre-law majors do exist, it is not necessary that an aspiring lawyer earn their undergraduate degree in law; majors as diverse as government, mathematics, English, and history are all common among law students. Courses in foreign languages would be well-suited to immigration lawyers, as would courses in public speaking and courses which are writing intensive. After completing a bachelor's degree, students will need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and achieve a score which a law school that they apply to would deem acceptable.

Once at a law school, students will take courses in law, court procedures, and ethics. As they advance through the program, students will be presented with the option to develop specialties and focus on taking courses that will help develop the skills and knowledge in that particular area. It is at this point that an aspiring immigration lawyer would begin to study immigration law. Courses in immigration law might include topics such as:

  • Immigration law
  • International human rights law
  • Refugee and asylum law
  • Labor law
  • Racial justice and law

These specialty courses might include clinic work, internships with law firms that do immigration work, and other forms of practical application. It may also be possible to take online courses in immigration law from other universities, if the law school does not offer much for this specialty.

Upon graduation, students will have to take the American Bar Association exam in order to be recognized as lawyers, and their state's bar exam in order to practice there.

Immigration Lawyer Career

After passing the bar exams and becoming licensed to practice law, an immigration lawyer would need to find a firm that does work with immigration law and apply to join them. There are organizations, such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), which a new lawyer could join in order to start making connections with like-minded professionals. Immigration law firms operate like many others, and can be small, servicing local or disadvantaged clients, or quite large, handling cases for celebrities trying to gain citizenship or corporations bringing over large numbers of workers. Immigration lawyers can also work for the federal government.

Lawyers will also have to complete continuing education in order to remain in practice. Continuing education requirements and the periods between renewal can vary from state to state, so lawyers should be sure to consult with their state's bar association on these requirements.

How Much Do Immigration Lawyers Make?

As of 2019, Payscale.com suggests that the median salary for immigration lawyers was $67,331. However, Payscale.com also reported that first year immigration lawyers make on average $55,550 each year, with that number increasing with experience. Those with 10 years of experience are reported to make an average of $96,033 annually.

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