How to Become an Immigration Lawyer - A Guide for 2024

Discover how to become an immigration lawyer with our detailed timeline, covering education, the bar exam, and optional LLM specialization.
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Beyond any doubt, immigration law is a multifaceted and ever-evolving domain that profoundly influences the destinies of individuals and societies worldwide more than any other law sphere, with the U.S. being no exception. Whether aiding in visa applications or staunchly defending clients in deportation proceedings, immigration lawyers work at the forefront of those processes, championing the cause of those entangled in the labyrinthine complexities of immigration law.

Immigration law stands as a formidable domain, shaping the lives of individuals and societies with profound impact. In the United States, where immigration plays a pivotal role in population dynamics, the demand for skilled legal professionals adept at navigating its complexities has surged. 

As stated in the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s 2022 Marketplace Study, the demand for immigration lawyers has significantly increased in recent years, showcasing the mounting need for legal expertise in navigating the intricate webs of immigration policies and procedures and the production of immigration lawyers who will serve as indispensable allies for individuals and communities navigating the convoluted terrain of immigration law in the years to come. 

Nonetheless, one burning question often arises amidst this demand: How to become an immigration lawyer?

Embarking on the journey on how to become an immigration lawyer entails traversing a path laden with academic rigor, legal training, and professional examinations. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the intricate steps one must undertake to fulfill this noble pursuit. From foundational education to specialized legal expertise, we illuminate the milestones and intricacies of the journey toward becoming a proficient advocate in the realm of immigration law.

Join us as we navigate the timeline, requirements, and indispensable insights essential for aspiring immigration lawyers to embark on their transformative journey in serving individuals and communities amidst the complexities of immigration law.

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What to Immigration Lawyers Do?

In a few words, immigration lawyers are indispensable legal professionals specializing in navigating the intricate landscape of immigration law. They are pivotal in assisting individuals and families with various immigration matters, including visa applications, green card petitions, asylum claims, and deportation defense, and serve as advocates, advisors, and allies for individuals navigating the complexities of the immigration process. 

They work tirelessly to ensure that their clients receive fair treatment under the law and have access to the resources necessary to achieve their immigration goals. By providing compassionate and knowledgeable representation, immigration lawyers play a vital role in helping immigrants build a better future for themselves and their families. With an in-depth understanding of immigration statutes, regulations, and policies, these dedicated professionals provide expert guidance and representation to clients from diverse backgrounds.

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In addition to their legal expertise, immigration lawyers often possess cultural competency and language skills that allow them to communicate effectively with clients from diverse backgrounds. They understand the unique challenges and obstacles immigrants face and are dedicated to providing personalized support and guidance throughout the immigration journey.

According to, one of the leading compensation data analytics websites in the U.S., immigration lawyers earn a median annual salary of approximately $90,000 as of March 2024, underscoring the significant financial rewards associated with this specialized field of law. However, beyond economic considerations, most immigration lawyers are driven by a passion for justice and a commitment to upholding the rights and interests of immigrants.

Now that you have a better understanding of what being a professional immigration lawyer means and how much immigration lawyers make, we can continue with the focal point of this article and finally answer the big question—how long does it take to become an immigration lawyer and how can you become one.  

How to Become an Immigration Lawyer

The path to becoming an immigration lawyer and starting a law firm requires dedication, perseverance, and a commitment to academic and professional excellence. From undergraduate education to law school and passing the bar exam, aspiring immigration lawyers undergo rigorous training to equip themselves with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the complexities of practicing immigration law. 

Step One: Pursuing Your Undergraduate Degree

Before becoming an immigration lawyer, you must earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. While no specific undergraduate major is required for law school, it is advisable to choose a field of study that interests you and allows you to excel academically. 

Maintaining a high GPA is essential for law school admission. Additionally, consider participating in extracurricular activities and internships related to law or social justice to gain valuable experience. The cost of undergraduate tuition varies widely, ranging from approximately $10,000 to $40,000 annually, depending on the institution and whether you attend in-state or out-of-state.

Step Two: Building a Strong Resume

As part of your law school application, you must submit a comprehensive resume highlighting your academic achievements, work experience, volunteer activities, and extracurricular involvement. Therefore, aim to maintain continuous extracurricular involvement throughout your undergraduate years to ensure your resume is well-rounded and showcases your skills and interests.

Step Three: Excelling in the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a standardized test that assesses critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning skills, which are essential for success in law school. 

A competitive LSAT score is crucial for gaining admission to top law schools. Registering for the LSAT and receiving your score report is approximately $200 to $250, with additional fees for late registration or other services. Consider investing in LSAT preparation materials or courses to maximize your score potential.

Step Four: Selecting the Right Law School

Choosing the right law school is a significant decision that will impact your legal education and future career opportunities. Research law schools with solid immigration law programs and opportunities for hands-on experience through internships, clinics, or externships.

When evaluating potential law schools, consider factors such as location, faculty expertise, bar passage rates, and post-graduation employment outcomes. Keep in mind that tuition costs can vary widely, depending on the institution and whether you attend a public or private school.

Step Five: Passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)

Before being admitted to the bar in most jurisdictions, aspiring lawyers must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). The MPRE assesses candidates' knowledge and understanding of ethical standards and professional conduct in the legal profession. Registering for the MPRE costs approximately $125 to $150, and preparation is essential to ensure success on the exam.

Step Six: Considering an LLM in Immigration Law

While a Juris Doctor (JD) degree is the primary requirement for practicing law, completing a Master of Laws (LLM) program in Immigration Law can provide additional expertise and specialization in this field. LLM programs typically require one year of full-time study and offer advanced coursework and research opportunities in immigration law. Tuition costs for LLM programs vary depending on the institution and program length.

Step Seven: Successfully Passing the Bar Exam

The final step in becoming a licensed attorney is passing the bar exam in your jurisdiction. The bar exam assesses candidates' knowledge of legal principles and procedures and their ability to apply legal reasoning and analysis to various scenarios. The format and content of the bar exam vary by state, but most consist of multiple-choice questions, essay questions, and performance tests. 

The cost to register for the bar exam ranges from approximately $500 to $1,000, depending on the jurisdiction. Thorough preparation, including taking a bar review course and completing practice exams, is essential to pass the bar exam and obtain licensure to practice law.

How Long Does it Take to Become an Immigration Lawyer?

The journey toward becoming an immigration lawyer is a multifaceted process that unfolds over several years, characterized by rigorous academic and professional development. So, in order to provide you with a truthful and comprehensive answer to the question we aimed to address throughout this article—how long does it take to become an immigration lawyer, and how can you become one—individuals pursuing this career path embark on a comprehensive educational journey that includes the following key stages:

  1. Undergraduate Education (Four Years)
  2. Law School (Three Years)
  3. Bar Exam Preparation and Licensing
  4. Optional Further Specialization through an LLM Program. 
Desk with visa application forms and other important documents.

Individual timelines for becoming an immigration lawyer may vary based on factors such as retaking the bar exam, pursuing additional degrees, or participating in internships or volunteer opportunities. However, regardless of the specific path taken, dedication, perseverance, and a commitment to ongoing professional development are essential for success in this rewarding legal profession.

Should I Become an Immigration Lawyer?

In pursuing a career as an immigration lawyer, aspiring legal professionals may opt to pursue further specialization through a Master of Laws (LLM) degree in Immigration Law. This advanced program offers specialized education and training, providing graduates with the expertise necessary to navigate the intricate landscape of immigration law effectively. An LLM in Immigration Law delves deeper into the nuances of immigration policies, procedures, and case law, equipping individuals with specialized knowledge and skills to provide exceptional representation and advocacy for their clients.

Group of graduates in cap and gown, standing together for a graduation photo.

Moreover, gaining practical experience through internships or volunteer work with immigration organizations can significantly enhance an aspiring lawyer's understanding of immigration law and procedures. Hands-on experience offers invaluable opportunities to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world settings, develop practical skills, and build professional networks within the immigration law community. By working directly with clients, handling immigration cases, and collaborating with experienced professionals, individuals can gain invaluable insights into the complexities of immigration law practice.

Furthermore, internships and volunteer work provide aspiring immigration lawyers with opportunities to contribute to the community and make a meaningful difference in the lives of immigrants and their families. These experiences not only enhance one's legal skills but also cultivate empathy, cultural competence, and a deeper understanding of the challenges immigrants face. Additionally, internships and volunteer work can serve as valuable stepping stones to securing employment opportunities and launching a successful career in immigration law.

By investing in further education and hands-on experience, aspiring immigration lawyers can position themselves for success and make a meaningful impact as advocates for immigrants and their communities.

FAQs From Aspiring Immigration Lawyers

What are immigration lawyer education requirements?

To become an immigration lawyer, individuals must complete a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, attend an accredited law school to obtain a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, and pass the bar exam in the jurisdiction where they intend to practice law. Some may pursue additional education, such as a Master of Laws (LLM) in Immigration Law, for further specialization.

How much does it cost to become an immigration lawyer?

The cost of becoming an immigration lawyer can vary depending on factors such as the institution attended, geographic location, and personal circumstances. Tuition for a bachelor's degree program ranges from approximately $10,000 to $40,000 per year, while law school tuition can range from $13,000 to $77,000 annually. Additional expenses include fees for standardized tests such as the LSAT and bar exam, study materials, and living expenses during education and training.

What should college students major in to become an immigration lawyer?

There is no specific major required to become an immigration lawyer. College students can choose any field of study that interests them and allows them to excel academically. Some common majors among aspiring lawyers include political science, international relations, sociology, and English. Maintaining a high GPA and gaining experience through internships, volunteer work, or extracurricular activities relevant to the legal profession is essential.

What is the average immigration lawyer salary?

As of March 2024, the average immigration lawyer salary in the U.S. is $89,362, with the salary range typically falling between $76,769 and $103,525. Nonetheless, the actual salary of an immigration lawyer depends on many important factors such as: education, additional skills, certifications, the number of years the lawyer has spent in immigration law, etc. 

Final Thoughts

Becoming an immigration lawyer in the U.S. is a rewarding and impactful career path that offers the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities. By obtaining a solid education, gaining practical experience, and obtaining licensure, aspiring lawyers can embark on a fulfilling journey in immigration law. For those interested in pursuing this career path, conducting further research, contacting immigration lawyers for informational interviews, and exploring educational opportunities are other valuable steps to take. 

In the end, if you're ready to explore a career in immigration law but don’t know where to start, feel free to download our immigration law career guide, listen to our thought-provoking and incredibly insightful podcast for immigration lawyers, and subscribe to our newsletter for more legal career advice today!


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