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. View article »

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  • 0:03 Immigration Officer Overview
  • 1:32 Get Experience or Education
  • 2:24 Attain a Position…
  • 3:35 Complete Job Training
  • 4:11 Learn Additional Languages

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Video Transcript

Immigration Officer Overview

Immigration officers work for the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS), which is a department of 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 immigration officers is to detect potential security threats and fraud attempts by reviewing data submitted on immigration benefits applications such as visas or requests for citizenship. Their duties include verifying information through systems and background checks and contacting records owners, such as other government or law enforcement agencies. Skills important for immigration officers include:

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Reading comprehension
  • Social perceptiveness
  • Judgment and decision making
  • Monitoring
  • Writing
  • Active learning and coordination
  • Familiarity with database, user interface, and query software

They also must pass a physical, background check and drug test and meet residential and age requirements for USCIS employment. As of January 2016, immigration officers earned a median annual salary of $53,226, according to PayScale.com.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree preferred
Degree Field Criminal justice, homeland security and international law
Key Skills Communication; critical thinking; reading comprehension; social perceptiveness; judgment and decision making; monitoring; writing; active learning and coordination; and familiarity with database, user interface, and query software
Salary (2015) As of January 2016, immigration officers earned a median annual salary of $53,226

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2015), O*Net Online, PayScale.com

Let's trace the steps required to become an immigration officer.

Get Experience or Education

Although FDNS entry-level positions with the USCIS do not require a bachelor's degree, individuals can replace the one-year experience requirement in a federal service position with completion of a four-year degree program. Majors for an aspiring immigration officer might include criminal justice, homeland security and international law. A student pursuing a degree in homeland security might take classes in intelligence analysis, criminal intelligence, emergency management and data mining.

The experience requirement for those without a college degree can be satisfied by working for one year in an assistant-level position at a federal grade level below that of an FDNS immigration officer for a military branch or government agency, such as the Department of Homeland Security.

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Attain a Position with USCIS

An individual who wishes to work as an FDNS immigration officer might be able to attain such a position once he or she has earned a bachelor's degree or met the experience requirement. 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 at least 18 years of age and must undergo a physical examination and drug screening.

Prospective immigration officers might 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 might 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.

Complete Job Training

After being accepted as a permanent employee of the USCIS, one must complete a six-week basic training program with the USCIS Academy. A prerequisite for FDNS immigration officer training can only be satisfied by completing this basic training. Following completion of the basic program, immigration officers must complete the FDNS Officer Basic Training Course, focusing on the responsibilities of an immigration officer. This would include a two-week site inspection training course.

Learn Additional Languages

While this is not a strict prerequisite, it's recommended that potential immigration officers learn an additional language. Since immigration officers sometimes interact with immigrants from different cultures - for example, to allow those filing petitions for visas or citizenship to answer fraud charges and deny or confirm information submitted on applications - understanding and speaking multiple languages can lead to smoother interactions. Spanish is a common language many immigration officers learn. Being multilingual can give aspiring immigration officers an advantage and might create opportunities for promotions and advancement.

In summary, an aspiring immigration officer needs either a bachelor's degree or a minimum of a year of job experience in a federal position. Immigration officers undergo job training and might benefit from learning additional languages.

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