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Masters in Immigration Law: Degree Program Overview

If you want to become an immigration lawyer, you may pursue either a J.D. or LL.M., depending on your previous experience. Find out which of these programs is right for you.

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Essential Information

Aspiring lawyers interested in practicing immigration law can earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.). Students in these programs often complete internships with law firms or clerkships with judges prior to graduation. Experienced lawyers who want to study comparative immigration law can continue their studies in a Master of Laws (LL.M.) program. Some LL.M. programs and courses are available online.

For J.D. programs, applicants must hold a bachelor's degree. There is no specific set of prerequisite undergraduate classes, but students should demonstrate analytical thinking and communication skills through their coursework. Applicants also need to submit their scores on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) to be considered for admission.

For LL.M. programs, students must hold a J.D. or its foreign equivalent, and many programs require applicants to have previous experience practicing law.


Juris Doctor Degree

J.D. programs typically take three years to complete and cover the theoretical foundations and practical applications of law. Students learn about laws governing criminal activity, as well as those that regulate commerce, private disputes, human rights and other civil matters. Common course topics in these programs include:

  • Immigration policy
  • Labor law
  • Civil rights law
  • Tax law
  • Criminal law

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Master of Laws Degree

Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs mainly cover the comparative, international and theoretical aspects of U.S. law. They typically emphasize legal research and writing skills in order to prepare graduates for work in academia. Students who are particularly interested in immigration law can take courses comparing U.S. statutes on immigration to those of other countries. Common course topics include:

  • Comparative immigration law
  • International human rights law
  • Comparative employment law
  • European Union labor law
  • Latin American immigration law

Popular Career Options

Most people who earn a J.D. practice law, though some become educators or enter public service. Graduates can work for law firms or the government, and some start their own law practices. Possible job titles include:

  • Immigration lawyer
  • Civil rights attorney
  • Immigration consultant

LL.M. graduates interested in immigration law have several career options. Many work as academics or researchers, and some choose to practice law. Example occupations include:

  • Immigration law professor
  • Immigration law consultant
  • Immigration law policymaker

Employment Prospects and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment for lawyers to increase 6% between 2014 and 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The field will be competitive during this time, with fewer jobs available for a larger pool of law school graduates. Lawyers earned a mean annual salary of $136,260 as of 2015, according to the BLS.

Licensure and Continuing Education Information

Advising and academic positions in immigration law don't require certification or education beyond an LL.M., but graduates of J.D. programs who become lawyers need to join their state's bar. To do so, they must demonstrate their knowledge of state and federal law by passing a comprehensive written bar examination. All states also conduct background checks to make sure lawyers meet ethical and moral standards.

Graduates who earn a J.D. or LL.M. can pursue careers as practicing lawyers or professors in a variety of work sectors focused on immigration law. The average salary for lawyers in general is around $136,000 annually, but the job market is competitive.

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