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How To Become an Immigration Lawyer

August 25, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 04/23/23

Are you considering a career as an immigration lawyer? If you are or want to learn more about this popular specialty, read on!

America is one of the top countries for immigration. Recent studies suggest around 1 million immigrants move to the US each year! With such an influx of immigrants needing refuge or seeking better opportunities, it’s essential their rights are upheld and they’re given equal access to housing, jobs, and education to integrate into society.

Immigration lawyers ensure immigrants feel at home in the United States and can pursue their goals. This legal specialty is one of the most popular amongst aspiring lawyers and may be a potential contender for you!

If you're having trouble deciding whether you should become an immigrant lawyer, this guide will answer questions such as “what does an immigration lawyer do?” “how much does it cost to become an immigration lawyer?”, and “is immigration law right for you?”

What Does an Immigration Lawyer Do?

Before discussing how to become an immigration lawyer,  you must have a comprehensive understanding of the roles they play within the legal system.

  • Advising clients on their rights as immigrants
  • Helping clients obtain visas
  • Helping clients throughout the citizenship process
  • Ensuring clients do not violate any immigration terms 
  • Drafting motions and appeals to present in court
  • Assisting with international business transactions 
  • Assisting with naturalization applications
  • Preventing clients from being deported and providing legal representation if they are needed

Overall, immigration lawyers ensure immigrants can thrive in the United States and follow the regulations they are bound by. The major issues these lawyers aim to prevent are deportations, arrests, or detentions.

Steps to Becoming an Immigration Lawyer

Another consideration to keep in mind as you determine if this specialty is the right fit for you is the time you’ll need to invest in becoming a lawyer. You may  ask, “how long does it take to become an immigration lawyer?”

Joining this profession will take at least seven years. But, there are several steps you’ll need to take within these seven years: 

Step One: Obtaining an Undergrad

The minimum admission requirement for law schools is an undergraduate degree from an accredited college. There isn’t a specific major you should pursue to prepare for law school, so choose one you’re interested in. This way, you’re more likely to do well in your program and maintain a high GPA. 

While the admissions committee will review your transcript and assess how challenging your undergrad was, they will ultimately factor your GPA the heaviest in their decision.

For undergraduate degrees, tuition typically costs an average of $10,000 to $40,000  annually

Step Two: Creating an Impressive Resume

You must submit a resume as part of your law school application. This resume should include any work, volunteer, extracurricular experience, and other projects you pursued during your undergrad. Do your best to stay involved in your extracurriculars throughout your undergrad, so there are no large gaps in your resume.

Step Three: Acing the LSAT

The other score admissions committees will pay close attention to is your LSAT. The LSAT predicts your potential to succeed in law school, so it’s important you receive a competitive score.

The exact score you need will depend on your top choices. As a general rule of thumb, the higher your school’s ranking, the higher your LSAT score will have to be!

The basic costs to write the LSAT and receive your score report are $455.

Step Four: Go to Law School

Once you’ve completed your undergrad and applied to your top choices, you should carefully consider which school to attend. Search for schools that can offer you the most experience and education in immigration law. 

You may also want to attend a law school located in a border state or with a high population of immigrants, so you have more internship and clinic opportunities.

Aside from having significant experience on your resume, you must maintain a high GPA throughout your JD program. Your GPA will also influence your job prospects post-graduation.

Attending law school will be the most expensive part of your legal journey. Tuition at these schools can cost anywhere from $13,000 to $77,000 annually

Step Five: Passing the MPRE

There are several exams you’ll have to write during the duration of your legal career. One of the easier ones is the MPRE. This exam costs $150 to write and  assesses aspiring lawyers’ ability to follow and apply the ethical and professional codes of conduct they’re bound by. 

While this exam is typically considered easier than the LSAT or bar exam,  you should still create a solid study schedule to prepare for it! Learning all  the rules and regulations will be easy, but knowing how to apply them to various scenarios is where the difficulty lies!

Step Six: Consider an LLM in Immigration Law

Your JD is the only educational requirement to join the legal field and start practicing immigration law. However, if you want more training to give yourself a competitive edge, you can complete a one-year LLM degree in Immigration Law. The exact price of these programs will depend on your school. 

Step Seven: Pass the Bar Exam

The final exam you’ll have to pass to become an immigration lawyer is the bar exam. This exam will be extensive as it will test your overall knowledge and competencies. 

Depending on your state, the bar exam can cost around $600 to well over $1000.

Immigration Salary and Job Outlook

Immigration lawyers are paid $120,353 a year on average, meaning you’ll be well compensated for the time and money invested into your career. 

Since America already has many immigrants needing counsel and protection and continues to accept millions more, immigration lawyers are in high demand.

Should I Become an Immigration Lawyer?

If you’re up for the lengthy process of joining the legal field and are willing to keep up with the constantly evolving immigration laws, this legal specialty may be the perfect career for you! Having great communication and attention to detail, knowing a few languages, and being empathetic will ensure you thrive in this profession. 

Immigration lawyers are major catalysts in their clients’ success. Immigrants often move to America for more opportunities or to escape war or political turmoil, and immigration lawyers ensure they can receive asylum and equal opportunity.

FAQs: How To Become an Immigration Lawyer

For any remaining questions about how to become an immigration lawyer, read on to find your answers.

1. How Long Does It Take To Become an Immigration Lawyer?

It will take at least seven years to join this legal specialty: four years to complete an undergrad and three years to complete a JD degree. If you choose to pursue an LLM for more advanced training, this will take your timeline to eight years.

2. How Much Does It Cost To Become an Immigration Lawyer?

It’s difficult to give you the cost of becoming an immigration lawyer. This number will depend on which schools you attend, how many times you write your LSAT or licensing exams, and which degrees you pursue.

However, if you stick to the seven-year timeline, you can  roughly pay around $80,000 to $400,000 on your education and exams alone. If you pursue an LLM, your expected costs will increase.

3. What Are the Education Requirements To Become an Immigration Lawyer?

You must complete an undergraduate degree in a major of your choice and a three-year JD to become an immigration lawyer.

4. What Skills Do You Need To Become an Immigration Lawyer?

Some of the skills that will help you become an effective immigration lawyer include the following:

  • Communication
  • Persuasion
  • Writing and research skills
  • Empathy
  • Attention to detail
  • Organization
  • Leadership 

Knowing multiple languages will also make you a more competent immigration lawyer!

Immigration cases can  profoundly change  your clients’ lives --for better or for worse! Ensure you hone the above skills to provide the best representation to your clients.

5. How Much Do Immigration Lawyers Make?

Immigration lawyers make over $120,000 a year on average.

Final Thoughts

After gaining a stronger understanding of how to become an immigration lawyer and what this job entails, you should be able to decide if it's the right legal specialty for you! Although you’ll have to invest thousands of hours and dollars into your legal journey, this time and money will result in a high-impact, fulfilling career!

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