Updated: Apr 22
Thinking About Becoming an Immigration Lawyer? Here’s What You Need To Know.
Do you want to make a difference and have a meaningful career as an immigration attorney? Keep reading to learn more about the different elements of this rewarding legal area of practice.
Immigration law may be right for you.
Immigration law is often intertwined with criminal law, family law, civil rights law, or even constitutional law, education law, entertainment law, sports law, and business law.
You see, practicing immigration law not only provides you an opportunity to represent people in regards to their immigration matters, but it also allows you to impact how a person’s immigration status affects them in many seemingly unrelated ways. So, if you like interacting with people from other countries and cultures, or if the idea of applying your education to working on human rights issues excites you, then you will most likely benefit from becoming an immigration lawyer.
Immigration law in a nutshell
Federal immigration laws establish rules and policies about who may enter the United States, the procedures required to enter the country, and the length of time those granted entries may remain here. They also regulate the process through which people coming to this country to start a new life may establish residency and, if they so desire, eventually become citizens. When people enter the country without obtaining permission or remain beyond their permitted time, immigration laws allow for their arrest, detention, and formal proceedings to expel them.
Immigration law as a career
A career as an immigration lawyer offers the opportunity to work as a trusted advocate for families and individuals seeking entry into the U.S. through one of the many visa programs. It may also involve representing and defending the rights of individuals in judicial and administrative hearings related to their immigration status, including detention and deportation.
Immigration lawyers can also be found in corporate offices advising businesses about the complex process of hiring skilled foreign nationals to work within the U.S. and assisting them with the paperwork and procedures They also advise employers about the immigration laws of other nations and assist them in obtaining permission to establish business operations in other countries. You will also find them working for government agencies charged with administering and enforcing immigration laws and policies.
All you need to pursue a career as an immigration lawyer is a law degree and a desire to help people, businesses and government agencies navigate through a process that is vital to our national security. Here is some information about immigration law and the role played by lawyers that may help you decide if it is a career you wish to pursue after receiving your law degree.
Federal law and government agencies involved with immigration
The U.S. Constitution grants exclusive authority over immigration to the federal government. Laws passed by Congress establish policies and procedures for controlling the migration of people from other countries into the U.S.
Before someone can enter the U.S. to visit, go to school, work, or establish permanent residency, they must apply for and be granted a visa. Visas represent official permission to enter this country for a specific purpose. Depending upon the type of visa applied for and granted, it may set a time limit on how long a person may remain before having to renew the visa or leave the country. As a general rule, it is unlawful for someone from a foreign country to enter the U.S. without first securing permission to do so.
Non-immigrant visas are issued to individuals visiting the country on a temporary basis. This group includes those entering the country to attend school, conduct business, visit relatives, or travel within the U.S. as tourists. Immigrant visas allow a person to remain in the country, work, and establish a permanent residence. Government policies place limits on the number of immigrant visas issued each year. These and other immigration policies change from time-to-time, which makes it essential for people to consult with an immigration lawyer to ensure compliance with current law and policy.
The Department of Homeland Security has primary responsibility for the administration and enforcement of federal immigration laws. Three agencies within the department share responsibility for immigration laws and regulations:
Customs and Border Protection: Officers from Customs and Border Protection guard the country’s borders with Mexico and Canada as well as international points of entry, which include airports and maritime ports.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: This agency is responsible for administering U.S. immigration policies and procedures. It handles all applications for lawful entry into the country. It has over 19,000 employees and government contractors working in more than 200 field offices located throughout the U.S. and the world.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws is the responsibility of the agency frequently referred to by its acronym, “ICE.” It works closely with the Office of Principal Advisor within DHS, which has more than 1,100 attorneys handling legal proceedings along with the U.S. Department of Justice against those accused of violating immigration laws.
Working for the government is not the only opportunity available for lawyers with an interest in immigration law. Many career opportunities exist in the private sector representing businesses and organizations or providing legal services directly to individuals.
Careers in the private sector for immigration lawyers
The complex tangle of rules, regulations, and procedures confronting people when dealing with the immigration system can be overwhelming without the assistance of a skilled immigration lawyer. Whether practicing in large law firms or in one-person offices, immigration lawyers advise and counsel individuals, families, and businesses in order to make it easier for them to navigate the immigration system.
Lawyers guide their clients through the procedures and processes for a variety of immigration issues, including:
Applying for immigrant and non-immigrant visas.
Establishing permanent residency is commonly referred to as a “green card.”
Acquiring U.S. citizenship.
Applications for political and refugee asylum.
Defending individuals at deportation proceedings.
Helping foreign businesses to obtain permission to do business within the U.S.
Immigration lawyers also assist U.S. citizens attending school or seeking employment overseas by providing advice about the immigration regulations and visa requirements of other nations.
Immigration law touches all aspects of life
You may not realize it, but immigration laws and policies affect other areas of the law, such as the following:
A criminal conviction may lead to deportation proceedings against someone who is not a U.S. citizen.
The law requires all employers to verify that all new hires have the proper authorization to work in this country.
Some countries do not permit or place limitations on the ownership of real property by foreign nationals.
Some immigration lawyers focus their practices on human rights issues by working with victims of human trafficking, representing the interests of individuals and families fleeing their own countries to seek asylum in the U.S., and advocating on behalf of the rights of immigrants.
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