How to become an immigration paralegal (Plus FAQs)
Updated 1 June 2023
Within the legal profession, paralegals assist solicitors and perform various complementary duties. Like solicitors, paralegals can specialise in a certain branch of the law, such as immigration. If you're interested in this role, learning how to become an immigration paralegal can help you get your desired job and advance in the field. In this article, we explain what an immigration paralegal is, describe how to become one, list key skills for this job and answer some frequently asked questions (FAQs).
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
What is an immigration paralegal?
An immigration paralegal works in various settings to support and complement the work of legal practitioners such as solicitors. Specifically, their main concern is immigration law. They may work for an immigration law firm or a firm that covers multiple areas that include immigration law. Other potential employers are paralegal law firms and government bodies. These paralegals develop an in-depth understanding of immigration law to assist clients and support solicitors. A paralegal may be an aspiring lawyer who has just completed their education and is seeking experience.
Paralegals may have a bachelor's degree or foundation degree in law or a closely related subject. Alternatively, they may have completed an apprenticeship or simply have experience in legal work. Unlike solicitors and other legal practitioners, the paralegal profession is unregulated, so employers set their own entry criteria for jobs.
How to become an immigration paralegal
There are various routes to becoming an immigration paralegal, involving the following steps:
1. Get GCSEs and A-levels
Whether you decide to pursue education or training after school, GCSEs and A-levels are going to be useful. They're typically necessary for entry to higher or further education, apprenticeships and other forms of training. The number of GSCEs and A-levels may differ depending on your chosen route. For instance, a bachelor's degree usually requires you to have two or three A-levels, whereas a foundation degree may require fewer, often just one or two. Alternatively, a college course's entry requirements typically depend on the level. For instance, a level 3 qualification usually requires four or five GCSEs.
Apprenticeships are the same, with the level determining the entry requirements, although GCSEs in maths and English are typically necessary at all levels. Employers may also set their own entry requirements, leading to greater variation. Good subjects to consider besides maths and English are law, information technology and business.
2. Acquire a degree
A degree can be a useful qualification for getting the necessary skills and knowledge in addition to the qualification itself. A law degree is an obvious choice if you want to become a paralegal. Degrees in other related subjects may be useful, although this may necessitate subsequent training to qualify as a paralegal.
A Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree usually takes three years to complete full time and includes modules on various aspects of the law. If you want to become an immigration paralegal, prioritise any optional modules related to immigration law or similar subjects. As experience in a legal setting can be beneficial for becoming a paralegal, look for degree programmes that include opportunities for work placements or internships.
3. Pursue paralegal qualifications (optional)
An alternative to a degree is to seek other qualifications to become a paralegal, such as college courses and diplomas from approved training providers. A degree isn't always necessary to become a paralegal. Some employers may even prioritise practical experience over advanced qualifications, so spending less time studying and more time working can be an advantage. Alternative qualifications also exist at various levels, giving you more options based on your GCSEs and A-levels. This also means you could start with a lower-level qualification and work towards a higher-level one.
A starting point could be a Level 2 Diploma in Legal Studies, which may only require a few GCSEs. Above that, there is a Level 3 Certificate or Diploma in Paralegal Practice. These introduce you to paralegal work and grant you the skills and knowledge to start your career. A Level 4 Diploma in Paralegal Studies is often enough to become a paralegal, building on the knowledge of previous courses and helping you understand the legal system and procedural law. Beyond that, a Level 7 Postgraduate Diploma can allow you to reach higher positions as a paralegal.
Related: How to become a paralegal
4. Complete an apprenticeship (optional)
Another alternative to consider is an apprenticeship. For employers that prioritise practical experience, an apprenticeship might be ideal, as you may spend around four-fifths of your time in the workplace getting on-the-job experience. The remaining fifth would be for studying law. Another advantage of an apprenticeship is that you can earn an income. This can be a level 3 paralegal apprenticeship, typically lasting 24 months plus an end-point assessment period. Although this is a level 3 apprenticeship, entry requirements can include at least two A-levels with grades of C or higher (4 and above).
During this apprenticeship, you may work under supervision to provide legal support. This can include performing administrative work, reviewing documents, undertaking research, handling client files, drafting legal documents, managing communications and organising records. To become an immigration paralegal, your choice of employer is going to be key. Ideally, look for an immigration law firm or similar.
Immigration paralegal skills
An immigration paralegal uses various skills to do their job, including both soft and hard skills. Soft skills are transferable abilities, such as communication, that are useful in various circumstances. A hard skill is a technical competency useful for performing specific tasks, such as using a software application. Below are some skills you can develop if you want to become an immigration paralegal:
Knowledge of law
Knowledge of immigration law
Excellent written and verbal communication
Organisation and time management
Attention to detail and thoroughness
Responsiveness to feedback and constructive criticism
Ability to work both independently and under supervision
Professionalism and sound judgement
Ability to work under pressure
Research and analysis
Problem-solving and creativity
Here are some FAQs about immigration paralegals, along with their respective answers:
What are the different levels of paralegal?
The paralegal profession is not regulated, so there's a lot of variation between employers. According to the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR), as of May 2023, there are four levels or tiers of paralegals. A tier 1 paralegal is a trainee who's in the process of getting a level 3 qualification. A tier 2 paralegal either already has a level 3 qualification or at least two years of qualifying experience. This also includes law graduates with no experience.
Tier 3 paralegals either have a level 6 qualification or higher and at least two years of experience. A tier 4 paralegal has at least a level 6 qualification plus four or more years of experience. Additionally, a professional paralegal practitioner is at tier 2 or above and has the Paralegal Practising Certificate, which is attainable for those who register with the PPR.
Can a paralegal become a solicitor?
Yes, a paralegal can become a solicitor. Work experience as a paralegal can count towards the two years of qualifying work experience necessary to become a solicitor. It would also be necessary to have a degree or equivalent qualification in addition to passing the Solicitors Qualifying Exam.
What's the difference between a solicitor and a paralegal?
A solicitor can perform certain tasks that a paralegal can't. These include representing clients in court and signing for them. Solicitors are part of a regulated profession, while paralegals aren't.
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