Immigration attorneys represent clients in a wide range of circumstances and work settings. Many immigration lawyers work for legal aid organizations that offer low-cost or free representation to low-income applicants. Immigration attorneys may also work as solo practitioners or in law firms that specialize in immigration law. Bilingual individuals, particularly those who can speak Spanish, likely have an advantage if seeking a position in a legal aid organization or an immigration firm.
Prior to beginning a career as an immigration lawyer, several prerequisites must be fulfilled. First, aspiring immigration lawyers must acquire a bachelor's degree. There is no preferred course of undergraduate study for entrance to law school; however, your GPA must be relatively high. After obtaining a bachelor's degree, law school hopefuls must pass a standardized test – the Law School Admission Test. Once accepted to law school, students must complete three years of study to obtain a Juris Doctor. Aspiring immigration attorneys typically take courses in immigration law and seek internships with immigration law firms or a legal aid organizations while in law school. Finally, law school graduates must pass a state bar exam to begin practicing.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – a branch of the Department of Homeland Security – oversees the naturalization process. Individuals who weren't born in the U.S. generally must seek citizenship through naturalization. These individuals often hire immigration attorneys to help them negotiate the path to citizenship, particularly when an application for naturalization has been denied. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services may deny an applicant for failure to establish good moral character or lawful admittance for permanent residence. Immigration attorneys often seek reversal of denial by requesting a hearing and judicial review.
Immigration lawyers frequently represent clients during the removal process. An individual who has overstayed his visa or entered the U.S. illegally may be subject to removal proceedings that typically commence when the Department of Homeland Security mails a Notice to Appear. Immigration attorneys assist clients during these proceedings by asking for Relief from Removal. Relief from Removal can be granted for a few different reasons. For example, if an immigration attorney successfully proves his client's need for asylum, Relief from Removal will be granted.
Green card holders and individuals who have been granted asylum may file petitions with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requesting immigration permission for family members. The petition process is often complex; thus, immigration attorneys are often called upon to assist. For example, family-based forms – such as petitions for alien relatives or fiancés – require extensive, detailed information and must be sent to specified lockbox facilities.