How to Become an Immigration Officer: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an immigration officer. Research the education requirements, training and experience you will need to start a career as an immigration officer.

Do I Want to Be an Immigration Officer?

All United States immigration officers work for the same employer: the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Immigration officers work on behalf of the U.S. government to enforce national security and maintain the immigration system's integrity. They can be employed in many different locations, but the main role of the immigration officer is to detect potential security threats and fraud attempts by interviewing immigrants and patrolling the land and water borders. A certain amount of risk and danger are inherent in this profession, and stress is often involved. Officers may feel rewarded in knowing that they serve as useful citizens in the protection of their country.

Job Requirements

Although not required, a bachelor's degree can make applicants more competitive in the hiring process. Most importantly, all immigration officers must complete a USCIS training program. The following table describes the core requirements for a career as an immigration officer.

Common Requirements
Degree Level While a bachelor's is not necessarily required, it can give the job seeker an advantage*
Degree Field(s) Not specified by USCIS**
Licensure and/or Certification All immigration officers must undergo a rigorous training program conducted by the USCIS**
Experience Entry-level job candidates for some positions may be able to substitute a bachelor's degree for experience*
Key Skills Active listening, critical thinking, speaking, reading comprehension, social perceptiveness, judgment and decision making, monitoring, writing, active learning, coordination***
Computer Skills Database user interface and query software***
Technical Skills Knowledge of how to use handcuffs, radiation portal monitor terminals, radiation detectors, 2-way radios, weapons and explosives detectors, X ray equipment***
Additional Information A potential immigration officer must pass physical, residential and age requirements in order to be employed by the USCIS. He or she must also pass a background check and a drug test**

Sources: *Survey of job descriptions for November 2012, **United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, ***O Net Online

Step 1: Acquire a Bachelor's Degree

Although some entry-level positions in the USCIS do not require a bachelor's degree, individuals who do possess such a degree may be better prepared for this career than those individuals with lesser education. Majors for an aspiring immigration officer may include such fields as criminal justice, homeland security and international law. A student pursuing a degree in homeland security may take classes in intelligence analysis, criminal intelligence, emergency management and data mining.

Success Tip

  • Learn additional languages. While this is not a strict prerequisite, it is recommended that potential immigration officers learn an additional language. Since immigration officers interact with immigrants from different cultures, understanding and speaking multiple languages can lead to smoother interactions. Spanish is a common language many immigration officers learn.

Step 2: Attain a Position Working for the USCIS

An individual who wishes to work as an immigration officer may be able to attain such a position once he or she has earned a bachelor's degree. Prospective immigration officers must apply for positions with the USCIS and undergo a rigorous qualification process. A successful applicant must be a U.S. citizen who has resided in the U.S. for three of the past five years. He or she must be between 18 and 40 years of age, and must undergo a physical examination and drug screening. Individuals who have not completed a bachelor's program may need to attain work experience in an office environment in order to become eligible for such a position.

Success Tip:

  • Consider participating in the Federal Career Intern Program. This 2-year internship program offers individuals who wish to pursue a career in the federal government an opportunity to get experience in the field. Such internships may lead to permanent employment. Those who participate in the Federal Career Intern Program will get on-the-job training while working with professional immigration officers on such tasks as reviewing immigration applications, interviewing potential immigrants and researching the eligibility of potential immigrants who wish to enter the United States.

Step 3: Complete Job Training

After being accepted as a permanent employee of the USCIS, an immigration officer must complete a training program with the USCIS Academy. This is a paid, 9-week training program that focuses on providing immigration officers with legal knowledge, perspective, decision-making skills and interviewing training. At the conclusion of the training program, an immigration officer is assigned a rate of pay and a work location.

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