A student interested in immigration law can earn an undergraduate degree such as a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, which typically includes coursework related to immigration. Some graduates go on to attain Juris Doctor degrees in law with a specialization in immigration law. A Master of Laws degree in immigration law is an option after the J.D. Certificate programs are also offered and may include some online course options.
Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice
When earning a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree, students gain a broad understanding of the U.S. legal system, especially aspects involving corrections, immigration, security, and probation. Most programs examine economic, cultural, social, and political factors that contribute to crime, as well as the effect of legal measures and government policy on crime.
Criminal justice bachelor's degree programs typically require a minimum of 36 hours of major coursework. Students are recommended to complete internships with a legal firm or advocacy organization that specializes in immigration issues. Typical courses covered in most criminal justice programs include the following:
- Introduction to criminal justice
- Introduction to law
- Law enforcement
- Ethics in criminal justice
A student who has earned a bachelor's degree in pre-law or criminal justice may go on to receive a Juris Doctor, which provides the coursework and training necessary to pass the bar exam and become a lawyer. For those interested in specializing in immigration law, participation with an immigration law clinic is recommended. It provides students with an understanding of the asylum process in the U.S. and informs them of the public policies regarding immigration and naturalization. Students interested in immigration law will also often work with professional immigration lawyers and their clients to gain hands-on experience before going on to pass the bar exam and become professional immigration lawyers themselves.
To enroll in a Juris Doctor program, students must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Minimum scores for entrance vary by school, with the 90th percentile of test takers scoring an average score of 163.
Students must typically complete around 65 hours of coursework in pursuit of a Juris Doctor program. Many law schools offer, in addition to coursework, legal research project options, internships, and clinics. Typical coursework includes the following:
- Constitutional law
- Legal methods
- Civil procedure
Master of Laws with an Immigration Law Concentration
Upon completion of a Juris Doctor, lawyers interested in immigration law may enroll in a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree, typically a one-year program that allows them to concentrate on a specific area of law. Another option is to pursue a certificate in immigration law. Many Master of Laws programs are elective-based, although some programs are tailored specifically for areas of specialization. These programs usually have strong writing and research components, in addition to practical work, such as internships, that may be required for degree completion. To earn a Master of Laws degree, students must complete around 16 hours of coursework. Typical coursework includes the following:
- Business immigration law
- Constitutional law
- Immigration law
- Federal courts
- Immigration and refugee policy
- International law
Find schools that offer these popular programs
- Advanced Legal Research
- Comparative Law
- Energy and Environmental Law
- Financial, Banking, and Securities Law
- Health Law
- International Business, Trade, and Tax Law
- International Law
- Law Degree
- PreLaw Studies
- Programs for Foreign Lawyers
- Tax Law
- US Law
Certificate in Immigration Law
Many immigration law certificate programs are offered online, which make them a popular option for working attorneys who do not wish to devote a year of full-time study to the pursuit of a Master of Laws degree. Immigration law certificate programs typically focus on issues such as laws and regulations concerning citizenship, specific petitions and applications used in immigration law, and the latest immigration policies being argued or passed in the U.S. government. Applicants for immigration law certificate programs are often immigration attorneys, although other legal professionals, such as law clerks and paralegals (particularly those who work in law firms that specialize in immigration law), may also enroll in these programs.
Immigration law certificate programs typically require completion of four or five courses related to immigration law. Common courses found in these certificate programs include the following:
- Business immigration law
- Immigration law
- Naturalization and citizenship
- Immigration court proceedings
- Family-based immigration law
Popular Career Options
Graduates of criminal justice bachelor's degree programs may go on to gain entry-level positions as immigration enforcement agents or take on other entry-level immigration law roles. Many learn to navigate the U.S. legal system so as to help immigrants gain lawful entrance and gainful employment in the country. Other popular career options for criminal justice graduates include corrections officer, law enforcement officer, private investigator, paralegal, or probation officer.
Graduates of Juris Doctor and Master of Laws programs that specialize in immigration law typically go on to become lawyers or continue their careers in immigration law. However, due to fierce competition in the legal field, many students with legal educations explore other career options, such as work as politicians or immigration advocacy management.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), employment for lawyers will increase by 6% between 2014 and 2024, although competition for positions is expected to be fierce. In May 2015, the median annual salary for lawyers was $115,820, although because immigration law can often be pro-bono or low pay work, immigration lawyers may average a lower salary than the national norm.
Students wanting to work in immigration law typically pursue a Juris Doctor after completing undergraduate studies in a related field, like criminal justice. Coupled with an immigration law Master of Laws or certificate program, graduates gain the skills and experience needed to work as immigration lawyers.