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What does an immigration lawyer do?

Immigration laws regulate who can enter the country and under what conditions they can stay, as well as whom the government can remove from the country. Immigration lawyers practice in a diverse range of settings, including the government, private law firms, legal services organizations and general counsel positions.

Within the government, many immigration lawyers work for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, particularly in the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). USCIS immigration lawyers might develop policies and regulations to implement immigration laws, or adjudicate applications and petitions for people seeking immigration benefits, from asylum to employment-based visas. ICE lawyers play policy and regulatory roles as well, but they also appear for the department in immigration court to seek the removal of those who have no eligibility to remain in the United States. Finally, many more lawyers within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) work directly or tangentially on immigration law, especially within the DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which administers the immigration courts nationwide and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Outside of government work, immigration lawyers work on behalf of those seeking to immigrate to or to remain in the United States. A private attorney might go to immigration court to fight a deportation, or to file applications by relatives willing to sponsor a family member seeking to immigrate to the U.S. Legal services attorneys work on a range of applications and petitions, from asylum requests to visa applications for crime survivors. An immigration lawyer in a general counsel’s office at a large company might oversee compliance with immigration employment regulations.

  • What skills do I need to be an immigration lawyer?

    The skills needed vary considerably among the different kinds of jobs. All immigration law positions require strong analytical and legal research skills because the statute governing immigration law is complex and because case law, opinions and other regulatory documents can be difficult to find.

    In addition, you will need strong interviewing and counseling abilities, trial skills, legal writing skills, cultural competence, foreign language proficiency (not required but highly recommended), creativity in seeking diverse kinds of evidence and in making arguments in underdeveloped areas of the law, and time- and workload-management skills.

  • What kinds of jobs are available for immigration lawyers?

    Private immigration lawyers work in immigration practices within diversified large firms or in small or medium-sized firms that specialize in immigration. Others work as solo practitioners. Large corporations and universities often hire immigration lawyers to handle immigration compliance for employees and students. Some legal services organizations specialize in immigration or employ immigration lawyers to complement other legal services. In government, immigration lawyers are hired for trial and appellate positions, as well as for regulatory and policy development jobs.
  • What courses should I take?

    Take all the courses offered on immigration law and participate in the Immigrant Rights Clinic. Here are some other courses to consider:

    Immigrant Rights Clinic I and II Immigration Law Administrative Law Comparative Refugee and Asylum Law Externship (with an immigration-based placement) Constitutional Criminal Procedure II Civil Advocacy Clinic I & II International Law Human Rights Law

    You can also consider taking classes to improve or develop your foreign language skills.

  • What co-curricular and volunteer activities should I consider?

    Complete an externship with a legal services organization or with USCIS, ICE or one of the DOJ divisions that addresses immigration issues, such as the Baltimore or Arlington Immigration Court or the Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, Va. Develop your litigation and advocacy skills by participating in moot court. Volunteer with a nonprofit that provides immigration law-related legal services or services to immigrant communities, or with an agency that advocates for immigrants’ rights. Work as a law clerk at a firm that specializes in immigration law. You can find immigration law firms, as well as UB alumni who practice immigration law, by doing a search on Join the UB Immigration Law Association, and follow the group on Facebook for events, job postings and more.

  • Who should I talk to for more information?