An immigration lawyer helps clients navigate laws related to immigration and naturalization in the United States. Those interested in this career should select a law program that offers coursework or internship experiences dealing specifically with immigration law. Acceptance into such graduate-level programs can be competitive and requires candidates to hold a bachelor's degree and take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Law degree programs last three years and are offered by dedicated law schools, often housed within the graduate division of colleges and universities. Such programs result in a Juris Doctorate (J.D.). A law school might run an immigration law clinic in conjunction with a local social service agency. Internship opportunities allow students to work with immigration lawyers to serve clients facing immigration or deportation issues.
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Immigration Law Degree
Many prospective law school students pursue undergraduate degrees in math, communications, or English. Courses in a foreign language, government, history, and economics are especially useful for those interested in immigration law. Because enrollment for many programs is competitive, schools consider breadth of experience as much as academic performance. In addition to scores on the LSAT, schools might consider work experience, extracurricular activities and community involvement. Common immigration law courses could be:
- Administrative law
- Constitutional law
- Labor and employment law
- Refugee policy
- Rights of indigenous peoples
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Immigration lawyers typically work in private practice or partnerships. They may work for governmental agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security or the Board of Immigration Appeals. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), a growing number of immigration lawyers work for large corporations who employ foreign nationals (www.abanet.org). Job growth for all lawyers is expected to reach 6% from 2014 to 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The same agency reports that the field's median annual salary was $115,820 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov).
Licensing and Continuing Education
Graduates of ABA-approved law programs are eligible to take their state's bar examination to become licensed to practice law. For multiple-choice segments, almost all states use the Multistate Bar Examination. Additional essay exams, ethics exams, skills tests and professional responsibility exams are also typically required. Information about continuing education opportunities is provided through professional organizations such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
A Juris Doctorate focusing on immigration law gives students the tools to advocate for immigrants and help them find the path to citizenship. A number of lucrative careers are available to those holding this degree and a license.