Career Development

What Does an Immigration Lawyer Do?

Find out what an Immigration Lawyer does, how to get this job, salary information, and what it takes to succeed as an Immigration Lawyer.

An Immigration Lawyer stands as a dedicated advocate for individuals and families navigating the complex landscape of immigration laws and regulations. This role involves offering expert legal advice, preparing and submitting documentation, and representing clients in legal proceedings related to immigration matters. The professional in this position ensures that clients are well-informed about their rights and the legal pathways available to them, striving to secure a favorable outcome. Whether assisting with visa applications, citizenship tests, or defense in deportation cases, the focus is on providing comprehensive support to those seeking to start a new chapter in a new country. Through their expertise and guidance, Immigration Lawyers play an instrumental role in helping clients overcome legal barriers to achieve their immigration goals.

Immigration Lawyer Job Duties

  • Represent clients in immigration courts and before government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
  • Prepare and file petitions, applications, and supporting documents for visas, green cards, citizenship, and asylum or refugee status, ensuring compliance with federal immigration laws.
  • Advise clients on their legal rights regarding immigration, naturalization, and citizenship, including potential pathways to legal status and the consequences of criminal convictions on immigration status.
  • Negotiate with government officials on behalf of clients to resolve complex immigration issues, including deportation defense and waivers.
  • Conduct legal research to support arguments in court and for petition filings, staying abreast of new laws and regulations that affect immigration cases.
  • Draft legal briefs and memoranda to support clients’ cases, presenting legal arguments and precedents to immigration judges and other authorities.
  • Coordinate with translators, social workers, and other professionals to ensure clients’ needs are met and their cases are presented effectively, especially in asylum or refugee situations.
  • Develop and maintain professional relationships with foreign consulates and embassies to facilitate the processing of visa applications and resolve issues related to clients’ immigration status.

Immigration Lawyer Salary & Outlook

Factors affecting an Immigration Lawyer’s salary include years of experience, specialization depth (e.g., asylum, corporate immigration), the size and prestige of their employing firm, individual performance and reputation, and the complexity and volume of cases handled. High-profile case success can significantly elevate earnings.

  • Median Annual Salary: $86,625 ($41.65/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $125,000 ($60.1/hour)

The employment of immigration lawyers is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

This growth is driven by increasing global migration, complex and changing immigration laws, and heightened enforcement actions, necessitating skilled legal assistance for individuals and businesses navigating the intricate processes of visas, citizenship, asylum, and deportation defense.

Immigration Lawyer Job Requirements

Education: An Immigration Lawyer typically holds a Professional degree or a Doctoral Degree, with a major in law. Essential education includes classes in immigration law, international law, and human rights. Additionally, coursework in political science, languages, and cultural studies can be beneficial. A strong foundation in legal research, writing, and public speaking is crucial. Specializing in immigration law during law school through electives and internships enhances job readiness.

Experience: Immigration lawyers typically have a background in handling various immigration cases, including visa applications, citizenship, asylum, and deportation issues. They often gain experience through on-the-job training in law firms specializing in immigration law or through government positions dealing with immigration policies. Participation in training programs, workshops, and seminars focused on immigration law and policy updates is common. Experience in legal research, client counseling, and courtroom advocacy related to immigration matters is crucial. Additionally, practical experience in drafting legal documents and familiarity with immigration agencies and their procedures is expected.

Certifications & Licenses: Immigration lawyers must possess a valid law license from the state in which they practice. No specific additional certifications are typically required for the role, but membership in the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is highly regarded in the field.

Immigration Lawyer Skills

Legal Research: Immigration attorneys delve into laws, case law, and regulations to provide clients with precise advice on their legal rights and obligations, along with the intricacies of the immigration process. Keeping up with the fast-paced changes in immigration laws and policies is necessary for the effective preparation of legal documents and representation in administrative courts.

Case Management: Organizing and prioritizing a varied caseload of immigration applications, appeals, and hearings is critical, ensuring submissions are timely and comply with complex legal standards. Attention to detail and the ability to adjust strategies based on changing laws and client situations are required.

Client Interviewing: The ability to communicate effectively and listen with empathy is crucial for accurately assessing each client’s unique situation. Through comprehensive information gathering and trust-building, attorneys can develop legal strategies that meet the specific needs and goals of their clients.

Immigration Law: A thorough understanding of the intricate network of national and international laws, regulations, and treaties that regulate the movement of people across borders is necessary. Additionally, strong interpersonal skills are needed to interact with clients from various cultural backgrounds and address their emotionally charged circumstances.

Visa Application Process: Detailed preparation and submission of visa applications, ensuring adherence to the stringent and evolving regulations of different countries, is a key responsibility. Lawyers also focus on presenting clients’ cases effectively, using legal precedents and current laws to enhance the chances of approval.

Deportation Defense: Proficiency in federal and international law is essential for developing persuasive legal arguments to prevent client deportations. High levels of empathy and communication are also vital for supporting clients through these complex and stressful legal challenges.

Immigration Lawyer Work Environment

Immigration lawyers often find themselves in varied settings, from quiet offices to bustling courtrooms. Their workspaces are typically equipped with the latest technology for research, communication, and document preparation, reflecting the necessity of staying updated with constantly changing immigration laws and policies.

The nature of their job demands flexibility in work hours, with the potential for evenings and weekends to meet client needs or deadlines. Dress code tends to be formal, especially when representing clients in court, but may be more relaxed in the office setting.

The emotional environment can be intense, dealing with clients facing significant life changes. This necessitates a high level of interaction, not only with clients but also with government officials and other legal professionals. Despite the challenges, the opportunity for professional development is substantial, given the complex and ever-evolving nature of immigration law.

Firms vary in size, from solo practices to large, multi-national firms, influencing the culture and social environment. Regardless of the setting, the role is marked by a commitment to aiding individuals and families in navigating the complexities of immigration processes.

Advancement Prospects

Immigration lawyers can advance by specializing in complex areas such as asylum law, corporate immigration law, or deportation defense, thereby increasing their marketability and potential client base. Gaining experience in these niches allows for the development of a strong reputation, which can lead to opportunities for partnership in law firms or the establishment of a private practice.

Another path involves transitioning into roles within government agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security or immigration courts, where lawyers can influence policy or adjudicate cases. This shift often requires a deep understanding of immigration law and policy, as well as experience in litigation and negotiation.

For those inclined towards academia, pursuing a career as a law professor specializing in immigration law is an option. This requires a strong track record of scholarship and teaching, contributing to the development of future lawyers in this field.


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