How To Become an Immigration Lawyer: Everything You Need To Know

Updated January 4, 2024
18 min read
How To Become an Immigration Lawyer: Everything You Need To Know

As the United States continues to be the world's top choice for immigrants, it’s no surprise that the complexities and strict enforcement of American immigration laws are calling for an influx of professional immigration attorneys. This vital need makes the legal field of immigration an attractive career path to becoming an immigration lawyer.

Understanding the roles, tasks, and services offered by immigration attorneys allows for effective pre-immigration planning, successful visa applications, and a clear vision for budding lawyers interested in this field. Let's dive into becoming an accomplished immigration attorney in the U.S.

The Role of Immigration Lawyers

If you want to learn how to become an immigration lawyer, it is essential to clearly understand what this role entails and whom it caters to. By definition, an immigration lawyer is a legal professional licensed by a state agency for legal practice and qualified to provide legal advice. Immigration lawyers offer legal consultations, assist with paperwork, and help resolve legal issues related to immigration and naturalization in the United States.


Immigration attorneys provide legal services to foreign nationals wishing to enter and stay in the U.S., extend their stay, obtain citizenship, or mitigate negative immigration consequences. In addition, immigration legal professionals assist companies registered to do business in the United States who wish to employ non-resident workers.

What Does an Immigration Lawyer Do?

Immigration lawyers play essential roles in assisting clients in securing and maintaining legal status in the U.S. They operate in various settings, such as solo practices, established law firms, and government agencies. 


Although it's important to note that some administrative tasks may be delegated to legal assistants or paralegals, immigration lawyers remain at the helm, responsible for supervising and ensuring the excellence of all delegated tasks. Here are the essential services these professionals can offer:

  • Providing expert counsel on immigration laws and visa programs and helping clients pinpoint the most applicable options.

  • Thoroughly examining clients' supporting documentation.

  • Assisting in the preparation of complete submission packages following the USCIS guidelines. This process includes compiling supporting documents such as reference letters.

  • Submitting the finalized package to the relevant immigration agencies on behalf of the client.

  • They are preparing clients for their Visa interviews with USCIS.

The litany of scenarios requiring an immigration attorney's expertise is extensive, varying on a case-by-case basis. However, these are the most common circumstances where clients need the assistance of immigration lawyers:

  • Applying for a nonimmigrant visa for a temporary stay in the U.S for tourism, employment, study, investments, or accompanying a U.S. visa holder as a dependent or family member.

  • Applying for immigrant visas or citizenship for permanent residence in the United States.

  • Changing the nonimmigrant status to align with the current purpose or nature of the client’s stay in the U.S.

  • Assisting in adjusting status from nonimmigrant to permanent residence, also called securing a 'green card.'

  • Overseeing the labor certification, facilitating U.S. registered businesses to recruit foreign-based workers.

  • Providing deportation or removal defense.

By offering these services, an immigration lawyer plays the pivotal role of a guide and advocate, navigating clients through the often confusing and rigorous paths of U.S. immigration laws and processes.

Your Pathway To Becoming an Immigration Attorney: A Comprehensive 5-Step Guide

Becoming an immigration lawyer can be a gratifying career. As a critical point of political discourse, immigration law is vibrant, evolving, and consistently refreshing. If you have a keen interest in human rights and relish interacting with people from diverse cultures and nations, this could be your perfect career path.

So, how do you become an immigration lawyer, and what does this journey entail? Here, you'll find a brief, 5-step guide on becoming an immigration lawyer.

Achieve a college degree

While some states like California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington permit law practice without formal education, a law degree, such as a Juris Doctor (J.D.), approved by the American Bar Association, is necessary in other states. For instance, not having the relevant degree in certain states lowers the probability of getting accepted into most law schools, as J.D. is a postgraduate degree. Therefore, pursuing an undergraduate degree is essential.

While no specific majors are mandatory for an undergraduate aiming to earn an immigration law degree, choosing subjects pertinent to future legal studies and the nuances of immigration practices can expedite your path into a law school. Courses like English Language and Writing, History, Economics, International Studies, and Political Science offer valuable insights and skills that can serve as a sound foundation for pursuing an immigration law degree.

Master a second language

Fluency in a foreign language can be a game-changer for an immigration lawyer, extending your accessibility to communicate effectively with clients from diverse linguistic bases. Choosing a linguistic minor during your undergraduate studies could be an approach worth considering and, in turn, gives you an additional edge as it broadens your prospective client base in the immigration sector. Furthermore, mastering another language can open the doors to cultural insights and empathy, critical elements in a field often steeped in human stories and global intersections.

Embrace legal internships

An internship during your formative years can significantly elevate your understanding of the field's practical aspects. Opt for legal internships or work with a nonprofit oriented towards immigration issues.

Graduate from a law school

You can apply for law school during your final undergraduate year or post-degree. An account with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is needed for electronic applications. Also, prepare for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

Note

While no specific courses are mandated to practice immigration law, an elective in immigration law or immigration advocacy can boost your future career.

Pass your bar examination

Just like most professions, immigration law demands a license to practice law. After passing the bar examination, you're on your way toward achieving a license through admission to the state bar.

As of today, most of the state jurisdictions have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) framework, which includes:

  1. Multistate Bar Examination (MBE).

  2. Multistate Performance Tests.

  3. Multistate Essay Examination.

Bonus step: Aim for certifications

Although not mandatory, additional certifications can set you apart, especially in states with large immigrant populations. Several states, including California, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas, offer specializations in immigration law. Make this an aspirational goal to stand out in this dynamic field.

Try and set yourself apart with certifications

Beyond mandatory qualifications, special certifications can help distinguish you from your fellow immigration attorneys. Legal associations in states like California, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas offer specializations in immigration law.

How Long Does It Take To Become an Immigration Lawyer?

Succeeding as an immigration lawyer demands a combination of solid academics, practical experience, interpersonal skills, and, often, entrepreneurial vigor. Whether you choose to initiate your career in a reputed firm or launch your practice, here are some vital tips to help you thrive:

In a Law Firm:

  1. Learn from experienced attorneys: Utilize the wealth of knowledge around you. Observing and learning from seasoned attorneys can enrich your understanding of immigration law and contribute to an immigration lawyer career.

  2. Take on diverse cases: Amplify your skills by working on various cases. This empowers you to handle a broad spectrum of immigration issues and strengthens your legal acumen.

  3. Connect and network: Relationships matter. Build strong professional relationships within the firm and the larger legal community. Such connections can significantly aid your growth.

While Running Your Firm:

  1. Create a strong brand: Your brand identity carries weight. Define and utilize your unique selling points to differentiate your firm in a competitive market.

  2. Know your clientele: Align your services with the needs of your target audience. Understanding the issues faced by immigrants will help you offer relevant and effective counsel.

  3. Stay updated: Immigration laws evolve rapidly. Staying abreast of changes and trends in immigration policy will keep your practice relevant.

Regardless of your path, dedication to your clients, continuous learning, and an adaptable approach are crucial to thriving as an immigration lawyer.

Immigration Lawyer's Pay Scale

The immigration lawyer’s salary in a law firm setting depends on your state and the immigration firm. Your salary can also vary depending on the type of service you provide and the billable hour targets set by your law firm, which can be capped at 1,400 – 1,800 hours per year or even more.

According to the 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, legal professionals in the United States had a median pay of almost $130 thousand a year or $67 an hour. Although these are average figures which don’t reflect the difference in lawyer’s salaries for various law practices, law firms, and state jurisdictions, they still correlate with the total figure, which can be obtained by multiplying the billable hours’ targets most law firms have by average hourly pay in the legal industry.

On the other hand, those immigration lawyers who start their practice are not limited by the average immigration lawyer’s salaries prevailing on the market. Instead, solo practitioners and partners earn profits based on the legal fees charged to the clients for specific legal services. 

For example, while lawyers can charge around $150 for an initial consultation, an application for adjustment of status or family-based green card petition can be between $800 to $3,000 or more, depending on the circumstances.

Who Should Consider Immigration Law?

Beyond monetary benefits, an immigration lawyer's career holds the potential for profound personal satisfaction, especially for those passionate about human rights and comfortable thriving in a multicultural milieu and looking to start an immigration lawyer career.

If you're intrigued by world languages, captivated by global history, and cherish forging connections with new people, this profession could mirror your ideal career trajectory, intertwining your interests with a rewarding professional endeavor.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the demand for immigration attorneys in the United States is rising unabated. These professionals provide essential services to immigrants and represent them in courts, thus making a significant contribution to society at large. Break into the field with diligence and determination, and a rewarding career awaits in immigration law.

Article by
Yevheniia Savchenko
Lawrina

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the product or UX content for Lawrina, feel free to contact Yevheniia directly at y.savchenko@lawrina.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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