Immigration is the act of entering a foreign country to take permanent residence. To become a citizen of another country however, certain guidelines set forth by immigration laws must be followed. Immigration lawyers help individuals from other countries take the steps needed to legally reside in the U.S. They also have an array of other duties and responsibilities. Keep reading to learn more about the immigration lawyer.
What Does an Immigration Lawyer Do?
In order for a non-citizen to legally live the U.S., he or she must apply for a visa. Temporary visas expire and are issued to people for various reasons, but most commonly to workers and students. Permanent visas, also referred to as “green cards,” allow a person to live in the country permanently, unless of course, they commit a crime and become deportable.
Immigration laws are so complex that perhaps U.S. tax laws are the only body of laws more complicated. In addition, even a minor mistake on paperwork can lead to serious consequences, such as a delay in the case or deportation. Immigration lawyers guide individuals through every step of the immigration process. The can identify the type of visa an individual will need to legally enter the U.S. and help prepare the necessary paperwork.
Immigration attorneys also represent clients facing deportation. They research the laws to find an avenue of relief, prepare clients for court proceedings, and argue the law on their behalf. Lawyers in this field may also assist families with international adoptions.
Some even work on behalf of the U.S. government. These attorneys often help lawmakers develop or revise laws or policies when it comes to immigration. They may also assist with processing visa applications or represent the government in court proceedings involving deportation.
Professional Requirements to Become an Immigration Lawyer
To become an immigration lawyer, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree from a college or university. At some point towards the end of the four-year program, you will take the law school admissions test (LSAT). The standardized exam assesses a person’s reading comprehension, logical, and verbal reasoning proficiency. When admitting students, law schools use the LSAT score as one of their determining factors.
After passing the LSAT, you will attend law school for three years before receiving a Juris Doctorate degree (J.D.). The three-year program entails studying basic law concepts the first year, and immigration laws subsequent years. After obtaining the J.D. degree, the last step to become an immigration attorney is taking the bar exam in the state of residency.
Additional Education and Experience
Some students choose to complete internships or clerkships to gain experience before graduating from law school. This can help broaden job prospects as many firms look to hire attorneys with experience.
Another option is continuing your education by working towards a Master of Law degree (M.L. or LL.M). This two-year program is internationally recognized and gives attorneys global credibility.
Additional Licensure Requirements
To practice law, you must meet additional licensure requirements set forth by the state. Each state has different criteria that must be met, but most require lawyers to take Continuing Education Courses. These courses keep attorneys up to date with news laws and case precedent. The number of hours required is determined by the state.
Where Can You Work as an Immigration Lawyer
You have several options when it comes to where you can work as an immigration lawyer. You can work in a private practice or at a law firm that specializes in immigration cases. Working for a non-profit organization is another option. There are non-profit organizations dedicated to helping people trying to obtain visas or those facing deportation. As an immigration attorney, you can also work on behalf of the federal government.
How do Immigration Lawyers Get Paid
How immigration lawyers get paid depends on the type of case they are handling. Services such as assisting in filing a green card application or family-based immigration petition are often subject to a flat-rate fee. Fees for these types of cases can range anywhere from $800 to $1500. For more complex cases, such as deportation defense, an attorney may charge by the hour. These cases can cost upwards up $10,000.
It is not uncommon for immigration attorneys to charge an initial consultation fee that ranges from $100 to $400. Many have found that since many immigrants have no steady income source, they cannot continue paying for an attorney beyond the initial consultation.
Attorneys employed by larger firms often charge a higher rate than those working in a smaller firm. This is due to more overhead expenses that need covered. Those with more experience typically charge steeper fees as well.
Some lawyers work with pro bono legal organizations to help immigrants in their community who cannot afford representation. Commonly, these organizations only accept a limited number of cases. To qualify for free or reduced fee programs, the client is usually screened to determine if they are qualified for the assistance.
Immigration Lawyer Salary
For attorneys in the U.S., the average annual salary is $119,250 as of 2018 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook. Since the BLS does not distinguish between areas of practice, this average accounts for all lawyers.
A lawyer’s salary is dictated by various factors including experience, size of firm, and geographical location. Immigration attorneys tend to earn a slightly lower salary than lawyers specializing in other subjects.
Employment Outlook for Immigration Lawyer
For lawyers, the employment rate is projected to grow at a rate of about 8% according to the BLS. This is average for all U.S. occupations. Career prospects involving immigration law are excepted to continue increasing.
Hiring an Immigration Lawyer
Immigration is serious business and the outcome of the case can significantly impact individuals. The process is also extremely complex, as is the procedure of hiring an immigration lawyer. Even if you have a recommendation from a close source, it is still pertinent to ask the right questions at the initial consultation. This includes asking about the lawyer’s experience and success rate with immigration cases.
This first meeting is also the right time to let the lawyer know your expectations regarding the services he provides. You should also discuss his payment methods and the fees involved.
Your attorney should be on your side, and represent your best interests throughout the case. He should also address any concerns you may have, and ensure your rights are protected.
How to Find the Right Immigration Lawyer
The idea of finding the right immigration lawyer can be overwhelming, but with a little guidance, the process will go more smoothly. Referrals are perhaps the most reliable source when it comes to finding an attorney. An effective lawyer will have a strong reputation, so it is important to consider the recommendations of others.
Another option is to use attorney database websites. These websites allow you to search for lawyers by area of practice and location. Some even list information about each one such as education, experience, and disciplinary records. You can also check the bar association website in your state for a list of licensed attorneys.
After finding an attorney that appears to be good candidates for your case, visit their websites to learn more about them. You should also schedule an initial consultation before deciding, so you feel confident that you found the right immigration lawyer.
|Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) law is optional
|Licensure in state of practice
|Creative problem-solving, critical thinking, multi-lingual, verbal and written communication, familiar with federal laws, people-oriented
|Number of Jobs (2016)
|8% growth rate (average growth rate)
|Median Salary (2017)
|On the Job Training
|Moderate term of on-the-job training
|Top earners in the bankruptcy field are generally employed by large law firms
(*Source: the BLS)