Immigration law and issues is a legal minefield with matters ranging from acquisition of proper visas and getting naturalized status to encountering deportation and facing removal proceedings. This is where a skilled and experienced immigration lawyer comes in to deal the plethora of legal complications that immigrants face.
Immigration lawyers help people in becoming citizens of a country other than their native country. But their services usually go beyond that purpose. Immigration lawyers, in addition to this duty, offer other services. These include defending an individual’s case and preventing them from being wrongfully deported to their home country.
An immigration attorney may offer legal advice regarding an individual’s ability to secure a work visa in a given country for a specific time period. A student getting education in a foreign country may want to hire an immigration lawyer to get an appropriate visa. These lawyers also assist people in obtaining citizenships through a process called naturalization.
Duties & Responsibilities
Immigration law is a very specialized field. An immigration attorney needs to have thorough and sound grasp of the law in general and fluency and expertise in the field of immigration, employment and citizenship. This is what sets them apart from other lawyers. An immigration lawyer’s job can be quite satisfying as he or she helps others in realizing their dream.
In comparison to other kinds of lawyers, immigration attorneys tend to spend considerably less time dealing with civil disputes in courts. Instead they generally play the role of a mediator between immigration authorities and their clients. A lot of immigration attorneys also deal with matters entailing an interaction of criminal laws and immigration.
Immigration attorneys have the duty of representing their clients in courts or serving them outside courtroom settings by providing legal advice and counsel. These clients can be either individuals or businesses. Immigration lawyers deal with a myriad of legal issues like:
- Acquisition of employment based immigrant visa
- Acquisition of foreign citizenship
- Deportation and related matters
- Provision of assistance for foreign organizations for establishing themselves legally on foreign soil
- Acquisition of a resident permit which is also called green card
- Provision of assistance to families seeking international adoption
- Provision of assistance in matters pertaining to trafficking
- Provision of assistance to individuals who have been convicted of a felony or crime
- Provision of legal counsel to individuals whose prior immigration application has been denied
- Provision of legal assistance to individuals who have a medical condition
- Filing and applying for refugee status or political asylum
- Provision of legal counsel to individuals who have been waiting for an extremely long period of time to get their immigration application processed
- Provision of assistance to individuals whose prospective employer is not helping out with immigration related issues
With respect to immigration clients who intend to apply for a green card, the immigration attorney assists his/her clients by walking them through the process, which can sometimes take a few years. The lawyer also makes sure that the prospective employer fulfills the Department of Labor’s recruitment stipulations and conditions, conducts the requisite due diligence, and files the necessary immigration paperwork.
With respect to clients that are companies and engage immigration attorneys for assisting them in securing work visas for their employees, immigration lawyers complete the necessary documentation, file formal applications and provide guidance to the company in the light of immigration and citizenship laws.
Attorneys in the area of immigration deal with cases involving a person’s right to stay in a specific country or become citizens of that country. If you intend to become an immigration attorney, you will have to complete a minimum of 7 years of schooling and secure a license to practice law.
For general law you will require four years in order to get your bachelor’s degree and then spend three further years on your Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. You can get your undergraduate degree in any specific field, but it is advisable to consider courses English language, history, economics, public speaking and mathematics. These courses will assist you in preparing for a career in the field of law.
In order to get admission into a law school, a lot of schools mandate applicants to undertake Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Once you successfully get admitted to a law school, the program will consist of a variety of courses, with majority of schools offering courses with specialty in immigration law. You have the option of completing your J.D. degree on a part time or full time basis. A lot of law schools now offer part time programs that can take from 4 to 6 years to complete.
The steps needed to become a lawyer are pretty much the same irrespective of what kind of lawyer you plan to be. To plan ahead for an immigration law career, it is recommended that you customize your academic activities so that they concentrate on immigration law subjects.
During the course of the bachelor’s degree, you may undertake courses that pertain to immigration law in the form of electives. During your time at law school, your initial year will be on foundational topics, later you can shift your focus on immigration law i.e. in the second and third years. Some useful courses include:
- Immigration law
- Naturalization law
- International law
- National security
- Human rights law
- Asylum and refugee policy
After completion of the requisite education requirements, the next step is to pass the state’s bar exam. The purpose of this exam is to establish that you posses the character necessary to advise and represent other people and secure your license.
A requisite to taking the bar exam, is that you should have completed your graduation from a law school which is certified by the American Bar Association. As requirements for getting admission to a bar vary from one state to another, in case you change your state, you will have to apply for admission to the bar of the new state, and this may mean taking another bar exam.
As an immigration lawyer you need a wide variety of skills to be successful. We have listed them below:
- Speaking – Talking effectively with other people to convey ideas and information
- Active Listening – Paying complete attention to what people are talking about, spending time to comprehend the point that is being made, asking relevant questions
- Reading Comprehension – Learning the meaning of written paragraphs and sentences in work documents
- Critical Thinking – Making use of reasoning and logic for the identification of weaknesses and strengths of various solutions or approaches to a given problem
- Decision Making and Judgment – Contemplating the relevant benefits and costs of prospective course of actions to select the most suitable one.
- Persuasion – Persuading people to alter their behavior or thought process
- Negotiation – Reconciling differences and bringing people together
- Writing – Drafting appropriate correspondence and documents
- Active Learning – Understanding clearly the ramifications of new data or information for current as well as future decision making and problem solving
- Time Management – Managing and tracking your own and others’ time
- Coordination – Changing your actions in response to others’ action
- Social Perceptiveness – Staying cognizant of others’ responses and figuring out why they act in that manner
- System Analysis – Considering the mechanism of a system and how an alteration in operations and conditions will impact the outcomes
- Service Orientation – Actively seeking out ways to assist people
- Management of Human Resources – Developing, directing and motivating personnel and determining who is best for the job
The ability to speak a foreign language is a plus for most immigration attorneys as they usually assist clients for whom English is not the first language. Knowledge of different cultures is also a real asset as well.
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Immigration attorneys may run a solo practice, engage in a partnership or employed by the government. As per the figures published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for immigration lawyers in the year 2016 was about $ 130,000. As is the case with other professions and practices, the salary depends on various factors like education, experience and location.
As an example, a solo practitioner operating at an entry level usually starts earning about $ 30,000. On the other hand, an immigration attorney practicing in the city of Washington D.C. may earn as much as $ 161,000. The takeaway is that immigration law is a generously paid profession. Some of these attorneys even provide their services at reduced rates or pro bono. An interesting fact is that immigration courts don’t, in most cases, provides defendants the services of an attorney and they are required to seek their own representation.
In the area of immigration law, career prospects are generally expected to improve. However, competition is getting more intense for placements in law schools.