How to Become an Immigration and Customs Inspector

Research the requirements to become an immigration and customs inspector. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in immigration and customs inspection.

Should I Become an Immigration and Customs Inspector?

Individuals interested in immigration and customs inspections may seek various occupations within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They may work as import specialists, border patrol special agents, immigration officers, asylum officers, customs inspectors, Homeland Security investigators, immigration enforcement agents, and detention/deportation officers.

Most commonly, immigration and customs inspectors are Homeland Security workers who inspect people, goods, and merchandise coming into and out of the country. Assigned to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency, these employees look for any immigration or customs violations.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree needed for federal law enforcement positions
Training Professional training program
Experience Various experience requirements based on occupation
Key Skills Perceptiveness, strength and stamina, good judgment, problem-solving skills, ability to deal with public; law enforcement databases, word processing and spreadsheet software; radiation detectors, two-way radios, X-ray inspection equipment
Salary (2015) $53,552 per year (Median for immigration officers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, job postings (December 2012), Payscale.com (July 2015)

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Individuals interested in working as immigration and customs inspectors will generally need a bachelor's degree to meet education requirements. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), federal law enforcement positions usually require a 4-year degree. Degree majors in law enforcement and criminal justice are available at many colleges and universities and will help individuals gain the knowledge to work as immigration and customs inspectors.

Success Tip

  • Complete an internship. The ICE offers two internship programs that can introduce students to this career field. These programs target students in high school and college and provide short- and long-term internship opportunities. Students who complete internship programs are eligible for non-competitive jobs within the department that may last up to four years.

Step 2: Apply for an ICE Position

Applicants interested in working for ICE and who meet all qualifications and requirements may apply online by completing an evaluation process. ICE recruiters will schedule interviews with applicants who score high enough on the evaluation process. Overall, the hiring process may take up to four months, which includes a background investigation. Special agent and other law enforcement positions may take longer because of the existing pool of qualified applicants and more detailed security checks.

Applicants must be U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals, pass a background investigation, pass a drug screening and meet relevant experience and/or education requirements.

Step 3: Complete Immigration and Customs Enforcement Training

In order to advance, all immigration and customs inspector nominees must complete the agency's basic training. For example, new immigration and customs officers must complete a 63-day program that covers subjects such as interviewing, cross-cultural communications, immigration and naturalization laws, fingerprinting, detention procedures and firearms handling. Candidates must pass four written examinations and a physical abilities assessment that includes a 1.5-mile run to graduate.


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