Want to become an immigration lawyer with a lasting career and a positive impact? For answers to frequently asked questions concerning this fulfilling legal specialty, continue reading.

Priorities first...

Who might be interested in immigration law?

Are you excited by the prospect of working on human rights issues? Do you enjoy communicating with individuals from many cultures and nations? Which areas of law—criminal, constitutional, civil rights, family, education, entertainment, sports, compliance, and business—interest you? Do you intend to practise federal court litigation or as a transactional lawyer?

If any of the aforementioned describe you, learning about immigration law will probably be beneficial. How come? Immigration law not only gives you the groundwork to represent clients with immigration issues, but it also enables you to understand the multitude of seemingly unconnected ways in which an individual's immigration status may affect them.

What do immigration lawyers do?

This is not just about the immigration issues that have dominated political discourse and the media in recent years.

Immigration attorneys may assist individuals, families, and companies in navigating the many and frequently complicated immigration processes. The United States has a steady stream of people seeking to live, work, and study within its boundaries. Attorneys practising in family law, criminal law, corporate law, and tax law must also be knowledgeable in immigration law because an individual's immigration status may affect and overlap with these other legal situations as well.

Among other things, immigration lawyers can advise clients about their legal rights and obligations regarding immigration, as well as represent them in administrative courts. They recommend courses as well.

For instance, immigration attorneys may assist foreign nationals in the H-1B visa application process to obtain legal status for the purpose of working in the United States. Through this programme, American firms can hire non-citizens of the United States for positions that need their expertise. Those who want to work in these roles in the United States have to go through a difficult and sometimes scary process in order to be approved. They frequently resort to immigration lawyers, who help with form completion and other necessary procedures, as do the employers that hope to hire them. In areas pertaining to the visa application, the attorneys may also represent clients in interactions with government representatives.

Related: Meet professor Dina Francesca Haynes, Director of the Immigration Law certificate at New England Law | Boston

Immigration attorneys can also be found in a variety of legal contexts, such as government agencies, nonprofit organisations, big law firms, and smaller practises that focus on immigration law. (Every elite athlete or performer has an immigration lawyer supporting them, assisting with obtaining the appropriate permits and providing advice!) Certain immigration lawyers provide their services via public interest or nonprofit law fairs. Alternatively, among other things, they might write letters, attend meetings with representatives of the government, give presentations, and counsel employees and volunteers.

Lastly, seasoned immigration attorneys may choose to explore alternative professional paths, such teaching immigration law at law schools. An immigration lawyer is often on staff at universities to provide advice to both new faculty members and students. Among the other options are positions as immigration judges, legislative assistants (every An appointed or elected official, or an immigration advisor on staff for a member of Congress.

Even criminal defence attorneys would be wise to study immigration law since they risk losing their licence if they fail to properly inform non-citizen clients about the implications of convictions, plea deals, and sentencing on their immigration status.

In the end, students who are interested in commercial law, criminal law, human rights, or international law may find that immigration law is a good fit for them.

How can you become an immigration lawyer?

A bachelor's degree is typically the first need for becoming a lawyer, regardless of the final practise field. This is followed by obtaining a juris doctor (JD) degree.

Although it is not technically required to practise, having an immigration law concentration or specialisation in law school will assist you advance your knowledge in this area and provide you a competitive edge. Instead, companies and customers will be searching for attorneys who have had a lot of experience in the immigration field, especially through law school coursework and practical legal experience gained through externships, clinics, legal internships, clerkships, pro bono work, and more.

Like most legal professions, immigration law likewise calls for a specific set of abilities. Proficiency in reading and writing are essential, as is the capacity to comprehend and explain complicated ideas as well as stand up for your customer in a confrontational situation. These are the kinds of abilities that law schools look for in candidates and help their students develop.

Strong interpersonal skills are also required in many situations. In the course of an average day in immigration practise, an attorney might come into contact with clients who have experienced extreme trauma, such as being the victim of torture, human trafficking, or persecution. When working with immigrants and their families, it may be particularly crucial to have compassionate communication skills because these individuals may require comfort and technical support to navigate the legal intricacies of arrivals.

If not in law school yet…

Even if you're still in high school, an undergraduate, a working professional, or you're not yet in law school, there are steps you can do to get ready for the legal education you'll need to take in order to become an immigration lawyer.

Although it's not necessary to have a specific major, political science, history, philosophy, economics, social sciences, language studies, and business are popular undergraduate majors for those thinking about going to law school. "Pre-law" majors can be found in even more areas, such as nursing and engineering.

Regardless of the specialisation they choose, the American Bar Association (ABA) encourages anybody interested in a career in law to explore educational opportunities, extracurricular activities, and life experiences that will cultivate the skills and qualities necessary for success in  legal field.

The American Bar Association also suggests engaging in activities that support public service, the advancement of justice, fostering relationships, and teamwork. Therefore, if you can, look for summer or part-time employment, internships, or volunteer work. An internship in a legal firm that focuses on immigration matters, for example, can provide you a firsthand view at the work involved and help you hone important employment skills. These "real world" experiences might also assist you in weighing the benefits and drawbacks of entering this area without committing to a full-time job following law school. Additionally, if you decide to pursue a profession in immigration law, it will give you a foundation of knowledge on which to grow.

The same is true for developing expertise in a firm that engages in social outreach or depends on non-citizen workers or immigration-related government offices. If a clear connection to immigration cannot be found, it may be worthwhile to pursue any paid or volunteer opportunity that involves writing, research, public speaking, or other abilities that are highly prized in the legal profession.

If you’re already in law school…

You will finish a mix of obligatory courses and electives in law school, depending on your personal interests and career goals. These could include immigration law or related courses, concentrations, or certificates, which offer a crucial intellectual basis for a career in this field.

Apart from your academic pursuits, it is advisable to seize every chance you can to obtain practical legal experience, especially in employment pertaining to immigration law. These kinds of possibilities may be found through your law school's clinical programmes, pro bono initiatives, internships and externships, and student organisations.

The JD is typically required for those who want to practise law, especially immigration law. However, some alums of law schools choose to pursue additional degrees or certifications, like the Master of Laws (LLM) or the Doctor of Science of Law/Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD or SJD), that call for more study. Those who want to teach law or carry out academic study typically acquire advanced degrees.

What does immigration law pay?

Although individual lawyers' wages might differ significantly, even within the same legal specialty, such as immigration law, it is common knowledge that legal jobs generally pay well. Earning potential can be impacted by the services you provide, the clients you work with, and the region of the nation in which you practise.

The U.S. Department of Labour reports that the average yearly salary for all solicitors is approximately $120,000. Federal employees make an average salary of almost $140,000 yearly, while state and local government employees make between $85,000 and $93,000. Attorneys who work for huge, profitable law firms or corporations typically make more money than attorneys who run their own practises or volunteer for charitable organisations.

Some attorneys who focus on immigration law may make less money than the mean for solicitors overall. For example, a lawyer accepting a position with a small immigration nonprofit may do so knowing that, although the pay is less than average, the work provides the chance to help people in dire circumstances who would not otherwise be able to afford legal representation. Not to mention that public interest lawyers routinely have greater satisfaction percentages. A lot of immigration attorneys also start their own solo practises.

Where can I learn more?

While there are a tonne of internet tools available to assist you learn more about being an immigration lawyer, you might find that networking with other professionals is a good place to start. This could entail setting up an informational meeting with an active immigration attorney, possibly through your undergraduate university (find out by contacting the career or alumni offices). Speaking with representatives from law schools can also be illuminating, and getting in touch with instructors and admissions officers directly is frequently simple. At a law school expo, you can also have the opportunity to discuss immigration law with others.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association, a nationwide association of more than 15,000 lawyers and academics who practise and teach immigration law, is another beneficial resource. This impartial charity offers expert services, information, and ongoing legal education. Its objectives are to advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practise, support just and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance justice, and further the professional development of its members. 

You might discover that immigration law presents the ideal career opportunity for you when you investigate it with the help of these and other resources.