There are a variety of sects of legal studies within which the professionals of law work in the United States. Some individuals work to help their fellow citizens in litigation, assist families in issues of reconciliation or separation, or even allow inventors to patent their original ideas. However, few branches of law help people as much as that of immigration law.
Immigration law is any statute which is based upon or opposed to content within the Immigration and Naturalization Act, and focuses on family reconciliation, adaption of foreigners seeking to move to the United States, and ultimately leads the U.S. to becoming the diverse “melting pot” that it is today. As a successful country with an ever-increasing population of immigrants (with growth of nearly 10 million people between 2000 and 2012), upholding the standards of immigrant acceptance and offering people of other countries a right to enter our borders and make a better life is foundational to American values.
Immigration Law Basics
Professionals working in the branch of law concerning immigration may find themselves interacting with an array of people, including those foreigners generally wanting to move to America, or even individuals seeking asylum and refugee status in the States. Lawyers and attorneys make cases for clients who desire either of these things, and paralegals assist lawyers in daily activities in order to enable them to help others in this way.
Paralegals in Immigration Law
Paralegals in this field of study have many roles and responsibilities, some of which include:
- Planning day to day activities of attorneys through the creation of calendars
- Writing and submitting motions, affidavits, and letters to courts for case purposes
- Assisting in researching and obtaining client documentation, including police data, marriage records, and birth certificates
- Working as a link between the Department of Labor (DOL), attorneys and lawyers, and the Immigration and Naturalization Act
- Formulating and organizing petitions and applications
- Helping clients in preparing for interviews with the department of Immigration and Naturalization Services
- Allowing potential and future United States citizens to obtain a Visa for work
In relation to the aforementioned job description, immigration law paralegals may find themselves working for government agencies, law offices, and private corporations to enable and simplify the process of citizenship. Paralegals with this specialization make an average annual salary of $45,720.
Strengths for Immigration Law Paralegals
As an immigration law paralegal, the job will require a handful of strengths for career purposes, which are listed below.
Strength #1: Good Communication Skills
Working with clients in this field can sometimes be difficult due to the nature of language and cultural diversity, so paralegals working in this sect of law absolutely must be good communicators in order to be successful.
Strength #2: Willingness to Work with Others
While this may seem obvious to some, immigration law paralegals must be willing and able to work with individuals from other cultures and walks of life. Those seeking a career in this field must be globally aware and culturally sensitive, understanding that clients may not hold to the same societal standards and expectations. This willingness to work with others is crucial to those wanting to be an immigration law paralegal, as open-mindedness and appreciation of diversity are a large part of this job.
Strength #3: Organization and Efficiency
Individuals seeking to become immigration law paralegals need to be organized and efficient, as there can be a lot of paperwork and necessary steps in order to help clients obtain their goals. Processes of citizenship and naturalization can often take years to complete even in the fastest scenarios, so efficiency in this area is key to helping clients enter the country and obtain citizenship status as quickly as possible.
Strength #4: Empathy
Seeking citizenship or refugee status in the United States can be a difficult thing for many clients personally, as the process is sometimes long and discouraging. Because of this, it helps others most when immigration law paralegals empathize with the situations of clients and choose to see them as individuals rather than numbers in a case. This perspective of humanity is fundamental to thriving in this field, and should be considered prior to choosing this career.
Steps to Take
In order to become an immigration law paralegal, there are a series of steps that must be taken.
Step #1: Pick a School
While many schools claim to prepare you for a career in immigration law, the American Bar Association, or ABA, has filtered the various programs across the country and put a seal of approval on the ones that meet modern-day legal standards. For this reason, it is imperative to select a school has been ABA-approved so that you can be certain that the education you receive is one of quality and renown.
Step #2: Pick a Level
For those seeking an ABA-approved program for immigration law, it is also essential to decide which level of education you want to obtain. Some paralegal jobs require only an Associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies, leading to a career which does not often have requisites of higher education beyond this two-year degree. However, several paralegal associations (such as the American Association for Paralegal Education and the National Association of Legal Assistants) strongly recommend 4-year programs with subsequent internships in order to be successful in this career.
Step #3: Pick a Specialization
Beyond a general degree in immigration law and paralegal studies, one may also opt to participate in certificate programs to enable them to better-work with certain positions. Some topics for certification include:
- Temporary work visas
- Residency based on family presence
- Government agencies overview
- Sponsorship and visa classifications
- Asylum and issues pertaining to protection
- Naturalization and citizenship
- Dual citizenship
- Issues with client compliance to laws
Regardless of which steps you may choose to take, seeking a career as an immigration law paralegal is a choice which will benefit you for a lifetime, providing fulfillment as you help individuals work toward a better life in America.
What an Immigration Paralegal Does
An immigration paralegal is just as busy as any other type of paralegal that concentrates on different fields of the law, although they engage themselves in tasks that are relevant to their specialties. So much of the work that an immigration paralegal does have something to do with immigration matters.
Most of the time, cases that an immigration paralegal helps with are those that are concerned with various deportation proceedings and citizenship processes. But still, there can be many other tasks that a paralegal concentrating in immigration may be busy with. Some of his or her most important duties include:
- Answering the questions of clients. Since an immigration lawyer is often busy with very important chores, it is usually the duty of an immigration paralegal to provide answers to the questions of clients. He or she is also oftentimes the one that informs clients about the progress of their respective cases.
- Obtaining foreign documents: One of the most challenging tasks that an immigration paralegal has to carry out with is the procurement of important documents. There are simply lots and lots of vital documentations involved with immigration law, and most or all of them are obtained by an immigration paralegal.
- Researching, translating and summarizing cases: An immigration paralegal is someone who assists an immigration lawyer that he or she works for most especially before a court trial. It’s exactly for this reason why such type of paralegal is often engrossed in doing tons of researches and various paper works.
There are so many other duties and responsibilities an immigration paralegal has to carry out. Since he or she oftentimes have to work with foreign nationals in behalf of an immigration lawyer, it can be very beneficial for the paralegal to have knowledge in various cultures as well as understanding of foreign languages.
How to Become an Immigration Paralegal
In the past, those who are looking to become paralegals need not take up special programs just to make their paralegal dreams come true — often, they just have to apply at law firms, governmental agencies or corporations searching for individuals wanting to become paralegals.
Nowadays, however, things have dramatically changed and for the better. Since a paralegal of today is usually given more duties and responsibilities that were once exclusive to lawyers, entities that are on the hunt for paralegals to hire often require applicants to have finished paralegal programs that make them more suited for the job.
If you want to become an immigration paralegal, you will have to successfully complete a paralegal program offered by a learning institution, preferably whose courses provided are accredited. Requirements for admission can vary from one paralegal school to the other.
Some paralegal programs can be completed in just a span of two years, providing the student with an associate degree in paralegal upon graduation. Then there are also paralegal programs available these days that are designed for people who already have bachelor’s degrees, whether related or not related to the law.
There are certification programs, too, that are available these days which can be completed in just a few weeks or months. But since it can be very intensive, it’s not unlikely for the applicants to be required to already have a bachelor’s degree, preferably one that’s related to the field.
Any paralegal student who is looking to specialize in immigration will need to take up additional subjects, in particular those that will help groom them to become good immigration paralegals one day. Taking additional immigration law subjects can help in considerably increasing your odds of being employed as an immigration paralegal.
How Much Money an Immigration Paralegal Earns
Based on the current issue of the Occupational Outlook Handbook as provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, an immigration paralegal working in the United States receives a median national yearly salary of $49,500. Most other types of paralegals also receive such amount of money annually.
However, the actual salary you will receive once you are already working as an immigration paralegal is likely to vary from the amount given above. One of the factors that will dictate your monthly salary is where you are employed. For instance, you can expect to receive more if you are hired by a prominent law firm specializing in immigration law.
Your years of experience as a paralegal concentrating in immigration law will also affect how much money you will be paid with. Certainly, being promoted can help dramatically increase your salary. It’s therefore a good idea to take up the appropriate paralegal program and be a hard worker if you want a bright future as an immigration paralegal.
The above are some of the most important matters you need to know if you are looking to become an immigration paralegal one day. Arming yourself with the right details can help you turn your dream into a reality.
*The information provided in this article should not be considered legal advice that can only come from a qualified attorney. Paralegals may not provide legal advice except where permitted by law.