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Careers in Immigration Services: Education Requirements and Job Options

Learn about the education and preparation needed to work with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs and job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

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Some of the job options in immigration services include being a technology specialist, immigration officer or immigration lawyer. Degree requirements depend on which type of position you are looking for, but a bachelor's degree in a field related to the position of choice is a good way to start.

Essential Information

Career paths with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) include civil service, legal and technology options, among others. A college education is typically required, though the degree level and major depends on the career chosen. Additionally, relevant experience is often required to qualify for an immigration services position. Education can sometimes substitute for experience, though the GS grade level an applicant qualifies for may be affected.

Career Immigration Officer Technology Specialist Immigration Lawyer
Degree Requirements Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree J.D. degree
Other Requirements One year of experience One year of relevant experience Two years of relevant experience; active bar license
Entry-Level Salary (2016)* $18,343-$102,646 (GS-01 through GS-15) $18,343-$102,646 (GS-01 through GS-15) $121,956 (2015-ST Positions)

*Source: United States Office of Personnel Management

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Career Options

The upkeep of USCIS involves hundreds of different areas of professional expertise. People with backgrounds in the social sciences conduct research about groups of immigrants coming into the United States. Legal professionals and paraprofessionals of all varieties take part in applying the law to the real-life situations of immigrants. Professionals with backgrounds in political science or public policy strive to make immigration regulations more effective and fair. Computer specialists maintain the technology used by USCIS to keep operations running smoothly at all times.

Some positions are particular to the USCIS. Asylum officers process applications of immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. and also work to handle refugee situations as they relate to international treaties. Refugee officers perform a similar role, but focus on verifying facts provided by refugees who request permission to settle in the United States. Also, refugee officers may spend nearly half of each year traveling to different parts of the world to fill their role on location. Immigration information officers help interested parties understand the immigration process and their eligibility for immigration.

Immigration Officer

Immigration officers are responsible for examining and verifying entry applications as well as supporting documentation relating to individuals who wish to enter or exit the country. Typical tasks include the interviewing of applicants and granting (or denying) petitions and applications. Immigration officers are also involved in the investigation of cases involving illegal immigration, and may be called upon in court proceedings to represent the Department of Homeland Security.

Technology Specialist

Individuals in this profession are tasked with supporting the efforts of various agencies and providing technical knowledge. IT specialists plan and create security strategies, and also monitor and update existing security systems. This includes identifying potential security flaws and developing an effective solution. Individuals with more experience may be granted supervisory roles in which they provide guidance to other IT branches.

Immigration Lawyer

Immigration lawyers work on behalf of immigrants who are seeking to enter the country or gain a green card or U.S. citizenship. These lawyers are responsible for guiding the applicant through each step of the process and confirming that the applicant meets all applicable standards and files paperwork accurately and on time.

Immigration Services Education Requirements

Budget analysts, operations support assistants, IT specialists and attorneys are just a few of the positions that USCIS seeks to fill. The requirements for each position naturally vary by profession. USCIS, however, does provide on its website some general provisions that apply to several of their job openings (www.uscis.gov). Many positions with USCIS require at least one year of relevant professional experience or a bachelor's degree. Job seekers without bachelor's degrees may apply for some careers if they're able to demonstrate they have sufficient skills and experience to uphold the responsibilities of the position. Also, USCIS runs basic training programs for new hires who fill certain positions, such as asylum officer.

Some positions with USCIS require specific graduate professional or academic degrees. For example, applicants for positions as immigration attorneys with USCIS would need to have attended law school to obtain a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Further, certain positions require detailed vocational expertise, such as those related to technical support or security. USCIS accepts education in place of work experience as a qualifying factor for certain positions and may give additional credit to applicants who have maintained a high grade point average or received academic honors. Advanced degrees are reflected in the assigned qualification categories of some USCIS positions.

Immigration officers work with immigrants on a case-by-case basis, deciding to grant or deny them entry into the country while immigration lawyers help immigrants in the immigration and green card process. Technology specialists help ensure the USCIS's network system is up-to-date, efficient, and secure. Most positions with the USCIS require a bachelor's degree and one year of experience, or substantial skills and experience, although legal positions also require a Juris Doctor degree.

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