How to Become an Immigration Lawyer: Everything You Need to Know

America the beautiful. The US of A. So many people want to come here and take their shot at living the American Dream. Getting here can be complicated as the immigration laws can be challenging to understand. Once an immigrant gets here, they need to figure out how long they can stay and what their status allows them to do regarding work and education.

If you want to help people with their immigration issues, immigration law might be a career path.  

What Is an Immigration Lawyer?

Millions of people want to come to the United States to live, work, and study. Immigration lawyers help these people do that while complying with the current laws and regulations. These lawyers become experts on the immigration laws while also staying up-to-date with any legal changes. These laws are rarely easy to understand, so immigration lawyers are essential to help clarify them. 

Immigration lawyers don’t need any additional certification beyond a law degree. They can work for themselves, in large private practices, at nonprofits, or with government agencies. 

What Does an Immigration Lawyer Do?

A person’s immigration status impacts every aspect of their life. An immigration lawyer helps clients with the ‌paperwork and documentation to get into the U.S. and stay here. They represent their clients in administrative matters and in legal proceedings in federal court when necessary.

Immigration law touches on many different areas of law, including criminal, constitutional, family law, and corporate law, to name just a few. As an immigration lawyer, you can spend your days in the office or in court, or both, depending on your practice.

Some states have individuals called immigration consultants. These people are not attorneys. These consultants are required to provide their clients with an Iimmigration services standard contract.

Typical services that immigration lawyers provide include:

  • Helping clients get temporary work visas, student visas, and work-based green cards;
  • Assisting with permanent residency, adjustment of legal status, and citizenship petitions; 
  • Representing clients in immigration court and criminal proceedings;
  • Helping those who are fighting deportation;
  • Getting benefits for the families of citizens and permanent residents
  • Assisting companies in hiring and keeping foreign workers; and 
  • Filing applications for asylum. 

A typical day for an immigration lawyer will often involve:

  • Meeting with clients and interviewing them;
  • Researching case law; and
  • Writing legal motions and going to court on behalf of clients. 

Some immigration lawyers may handle a broad range of immigration cases. Others may specialize in one particular area, like obtaining visas. 

How to Become an Immigration Attorney: 5 Steps

Being an immigration lawyer can be a highly satisfying career. A frequent topic of political debate, immigration law is a dynamic and constantly changing practice area. 

If you are interested in human rights and enjoy interacting with people from different countries and cultures, this could be an excellent career choice. 

Want to know how to become an immigration lawyer? And how long to become an immigration lawyer? Here’s what you need to know and how long it takes to become an immigration lawyer. 

Get a college degree

Education is the first and most important thing among immigration lawyer requirements to becoming any type of lawyer. The first step is getting a 4-year bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t matter what subject your degree is in, as long as your grades are good enough to get you into law school. The following majors could provide a good base for a future immigration lawyer:

beautiful young female graduate hugging her father at graduation
  • History, political science, or philosophy;
  • English, Economics, International Studies, and
  • Language studies.

Humanities majors allow you to develop strong analytical and writing skills, abilities that will serve you well as a lawyer. 

Learn another language

Becoming fluent in another language could also be extremely helpful to you as an immigration lawyer. It’s a valuable addition to your coursework. Making a language one of your minors could be extremely helpful.

Take a legal internship

Use your time in college to get some good real-world experience. Taking a legal internship or working for a nonprofit that offers legal assistance on immigration issues will provide you with an excellent knowledge base to draw on down the road.

Graduate from law school

If you plan to go straight to law school after your undergraduate studies, you can apply to law schools during your senior year of college. Excellent grades and high scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) will give you a better chance of admission.

Law school takes three years to complete. If possible, take as many immigration-related classes as you can. 

During law school, it’s a good idea to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. Some things you should consider include:

  • Working at immigration agencies, a law firm, or your school’s legal clinic during the school year;
  • Using your summers wisely—do anything you can in the immigration law field;
  • Start networking in law school–it will pay off when you look for a job after graduation, and
  • Ask for informational interviews with local attorneys–the more you know, the better armed you are to jump into the job market. 
  • Use law reference generator while reading the cited documents and references to gain a more thorough understanding of legal topics.

After law school, pass the bar exam; everyone must pass a state bar exam, which covers the most significant areas of that state’s laws. Immigration law is federal law, so immigration questions will not be on the exam. 

In addition to the state-law-centered exam, most states also give a 6-hour multistate bar examination, with questions covering various areas of law. The difficulty of the exam varies from state to state. If you fail the first time you take the bar exam, most states will permit you to take the test again a number of times.

Try and set yourself apart with certifications

No specific licenses are required to practice immigration law. However, getting certifications can help set you apart from other immigration attorneys, especially in states with many immigrants.

California, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas bar associations offer specializations in immigration law.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Immigration Lawyer?

If you are a high school graduate, it will take a full seven years to finish college and law school if you are going to school full time. If you pass the bar on the first try, you can be practicing immigration law after seven and half years. 

How to Succeed as an Immigration Lawyer

Once you are a licensed attorney, join all the national and local immigration law professional associations you can. This is a perfect way to network and make connections to help you find a job and get client referrals.. 

Depending on what you are looking for in a work experience, you can join a law firm or start your own law practice. If you join a firm, infrastructure is already in place, so you can focus on learning your craft. 

Starting a solo practice is a good option if you want to be your own boss. The downside is that you have the obligations to run an office, market your practice, and bring in clients. Another challenge of a solo law practice is the limited ability to consult with other lawyers about ideas, case problems, or to seek advice.  

How Much Do Immigration Lawyers Get Paid?

A successful lawyer can make a good salary. The average salary for all lawyers in 2021 was just under $130,000. Typically, you will make steadier money if you work in a big firm or for a corporation. If you work for the government or a nonprofit, you will likely make less.

Immigration lawyers may not make as much as some other lawyers. This area of legal practice is considered a public interest, which is not particularly lucrative. You often deal with people who immigrated for job opportunities and a better life. These people typically don’t have a lot of money. 

The flip side is that you can derive great satisfaction by helping people during one of the most stressful and vulnerable times in their lives. 

Summing Up

Immigration and the laws governing immigration are hot topics in the United States today. If you are interested in helping people come to the United States and stay here legally, immigration law could be an exciting career for you. You would be a beacon helping guide people through the often confusing immigration process. 

Becoming an immigration lawyer requires a bit of schooling, but at the end of the road, you will be involved in a dynamic and exciting area of the law. Knowing how to become an immigration attorney and which steps to follow, you can quickly set up your career.

Article by Yevheniia Savchenko

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Legal Writer at Lawrina. Yevheniia browses through the most interesting and relevant news in the legal and legaltech world and collects them on Lawrina’s blog. Also, Yevheniia composes various how-to guides on legaltech, plus writes product articles and release notes for Loio, AI-powered contract review and drafting software.

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