How to Become an Immigration Specialist

Learn how to become an immigration specialist. Research the job duties and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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  • 0:02 Immigration Specialist
  • 0:38 Career Requirements
  • 1:21 Steps

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Immigration Specialist

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the federal agency responsible for lawful immigration to the United States. It provides services such as citizenship, immigration of family members, U.S. work permits, adoptions, and humanitarian programs. It can also deal with homeland security issues.

Though much of working for the USCIS involves processes paperwork and answering questions, doing so can have a tremendous impact on improving the lives of those who are or who are trying to become legal immigrants.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; may be substituted for work experience
Degree Field Any major
Experience Relevant work experience; completion of a USCIS basic training program
Key Skills Strong analytical, research, and communication skills; ability to work as a team; strong organizational skills to handle information; good interviewer; knowledge of various software programs to process applications, research petitions, and conduct background checks
Median Salary (2016) $60,712 (for immigration consultant)

Source: (2016)

Steps to Getting Into This Career

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Individuals interested in becoming immigration specialists may want to earn a bachelor's degree to improve their opportunities for employment at the USCIS. According to USCIS job postings for immigration officers, applicants may substitute relevant work experience for a bachelor's degree from an accredited university or college. Because of the range of services provided by the USCIS, individuals may want to consider degree programs in history, English, law, social services, or another field related to services provided by the department.

Step 2: Seek a Federal Internship

Students may seek a Federal Career Internship at the USCIS as a way to gain eventual full-time employment there. USCIS interns must complete a basic training program and a successful 2-year internship before they may request an appointment to a career position. Interns must meet all position qualifications, performance, and suitability requirements. Completion of an internship also serves as the probationary period for the employee if appointed to a position, according to the USCIS.

Step 3: Apply for a USCIS Job

After identifying USCIS job openings, individuals who meet the job requirements may apply online or by mail. The agency determines the eligibility of all applicants and identifies the best candidates for hire. Those best qualified are then interviewed and their references are checked. Candidates selected for hire must then pass a background investigation and other pre-employment requirements, according to the USCIS.

Immigration services officers decide on applications and petitions for immigration benefits after independent research and review of the information provided. They also check documents for authenticity. These officers receive operational support from immigration services assistants. Both jobs require applicants:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or U.S. national
  • Pass a background investigation and drug screening
  • Meet relevant work experience or education requirements

Step 5: Complete USCIS Basic Training Program

Once hired, new immigration officers must complete a basic training program designed for their occupation. For example, new immigration services officers must attend a 6-week basic training program in Dallas, TX. They must also complete a week-long practicum course in Missouri and a week-long training program at a USCIS district office or service center. These programs teach new immigration services officers the skills needed to adjudicate applications and petitions.

Step 6: Gain Experience and Advance

With enough experience, immigration specialists may advance to supervisory positions within the USCIS. They may also parlay their experience into immigration-related positions in other government agencies.

With a post-secondary education or relevant experience and passing USCIS basic training, immigration specialists earn about $61,000 a year to provide services such as:

  • Citizenship
  • Immigration of family members
  • U.S. work permits
  • Adoptions
  • Humanitarian programs
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