How to become an immigration lawyer in 6 practical steps
Updated 16 August 2023
Immigration lawyers are legal advisers who provide expert assistance on immigration, especially to people moving into the country. An immigration lawyer performs various duties, including preparing forms, assisting clients with filling forms, translating documents, helping with the immigration of individuals or businesses and representing immigrants in court when necessary. For assistance with gaining citizenship, work permits, visa applications, visa renewals and deportation, immigration lawyers are the preferred professionals to consult. In this article, we discuss the academic requirements for the profession, the career options in immigration law and how to become an immigration lawyer.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
How to become an immigration lawyer
Follow these tips to learn how to become an immigration lawyer:
1. Earn a law degree
The first step to gaining the required qualifications for immigration law is to apply for a law degree. Entry requirements for a law programme are not always the same. They depend on the university or college's admission policy. The A-Level subjects to take when studying law are law, legal research, political science, history, English, philosophy and sciences.
Related: How to become a solicitor
2. Apply for the Certificate of Academic Standing
The next step is to get a Certificate of Academic Standing from the Solicitors Regulation Authority. To earn the SRA practising solicitor certificate, ensure you meet the SRA Assessment of Character and Suitability standards. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) runs background checks on the history of every potential solicitor to assess their character and suitability to practice law. These background checks require you to fill the SRA Character and Suitability Assessment form for assessment.
3. Complete the Legal Practice Course
After completing your law degree programme, your next step is to complete a Legal Practice Course (LPC). This course can equip you with relevant knowledge of current industry practices and build the essential character to become an immigration lawyer. It takes a year to complete full-time LPC training, whereas studying the LPC part-time takes two years. You can apply to the SRA for an exemption from the LPC programme if you have the required skills. You can follow your LPC certificate with a two-year practical training in immigration law.
4. Gain experience
While you search for an immigration lawyer position at a top law firm, consider starting as a legal clerk or a legal extern. These positions can enable you to work under experienced immigration solicitors who can teach you winning industry tactics. Likewise, the connections and exposure an immigration lawyer has can help secure better opportunities in immigration law.
5. Get an associate degree
There are other associate degrees and certifications available to immigration lawyers. They provide in-depth knowledge of specific areas of immigration law. You can enrol in any of these courses at the top universities or colleges. You can take some of these courses online. Here are the certifications you can earn to increase your knowledge and skills in immigration law:
human trafficking, migration and organised crime
refugee and forced migration studies
6. Register with the OISC
To become a practising immigration lawyer, you either join an approved immigration law body or register with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC). You can also legally practice immigration law if the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act covers you. The OISC regulates the immigration system, including the solicitors and how they practice law. They ensure that immigration solicitors are up to date with current immigration laws and practices.
The OISC also ensures that immigration solicitors have the knowledge, qualifications and resources to give solid immigration advice to their clients. It has a list of registered immigration law services. Visit the official website of the OISC to find detailed information on registering your practice legally. If you meet the requirements and register successfully, the OISC adds you to its list of credible immigration solicitors. If you prefer to join a registered association for accreditation, here are the credible bodies approved by the OISC:
Related: How to become a barrister
What do immigration lawyers do?
An immigration lawyer performs various duties similar to lawyers in other divisions. Here are the responsibilities to expect from those who have immigration law careers:
running background checks on clients
scheduling meetings or consultations with clients
representing clients with immigration-related issues in court
scheduling and planning cases according to their priorities
advising clients on immigration policies and visa application procedures
assisting clients with visa application and processing
handling complicated immigration issues for individual clients
handling corporate immigration issues, including non-immigrant and immigrant work visa processes
drafting official letters and reviewing documents relevant to immigration cases
preparing clients for court sessions
working closely with immigrants to gain valuable information and prepare the necessary documents for a court proceeding.
Salary of immigration lawyers
The average yearly salary for an immigration lawyer is £40,917. This salary varies across regions. While some cities pay a relatively low salary, London, Bristol and Manchester are among the highest-earning cities for immigration lawyers. Besides location, an immigration lawyer's years of experience, the calibre of clients and level of success may influence their salary.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
Skills for a career in immigration law
It takes a combination of skill, dedication, experience and hard work to become an immigration lawyer. The following are some of the skills required for becoming an immigration lawyer:
Immigration lawyers converse with people of all backgrounds and social statuses daily for information or updates on various matters. More importantly, immigration lawyers spend most of their time speaking to those that immigration laws affect. Superior communication skills involve listening attentively and understanding the pain points of clients to find the best ways of addressing the situation. Communication skills can help you share with and receive information with immigrants.
From leaving a decent job behind to losing contact with their family, moving into the country was tough for many immigrants. Upon arrival, immigrants find it difficult to remain legal residents of the country. To fully comprehend the plight of immigrants, an immigration lawyer needs empathy—it can motivate you to help immigrants find justice. Understanding why people immigrate can make you more dedicated to your profession. Here are some of the reasons why people flee their home countries:
violation of human rights
environmental safety issues
better quality education
abuse of power or political corruption
Foreign language skills
While some immigrants may speak English, most are usually not fluent in any language other than their local dialect. To have a career in immigration law, being fluent in foreign languages can help. Some of the most coveted foreign languages include French, Polish, German and Spanish.
In immigration law, like any other branch of law, lawyers work with accurate and verifiable information. Research skills are vital to uncovering accurate and helpful information to win a case. A decent knowledge of IT and interviewing skills can help with research.
Helping immigrants find justice can be tricky, depending on the circumstances of their immigration. Immigrants often risk deportation, human trafficking, kidnapping and mistaken identity. Immigration lawyers use problem-solving skills to get clients a fair trial, avoid deportation or safeguard them from arrest.
Related: 9 essential solicitor skills
Career options in immigration law
Immigration law is diverse and has various areas of specialisation. Choosing a suitable path can positively influence an immigration lawyer's career. The areas of specialisation in immigration law include employment, business, family, education, healthcare, special training and humanitarian-based immigration. Here is a list of careers in immigration law:
Immigration paralegal: They work closely with solicitors in immigration to research, file and prepare cases in various areas of immigration law. Attention to detail, organisation and prior experience in immigration law are important skills for an immigration paralegal.
Legal writer: A legal writer is a professional with the fundamental knowledge of immigration law who writes affidavits for waiver applications or articles and immigration guides. They can also help with drafting vital letters and contracts for an immigration law firm.
Senior immigration solicitor: This is a senior-level immigration law career that requires between three and five years of experience in a leading role. A senior immigration lawyer also trains, mentors or leads a team of solicitors and monitors staff performances.
Business or employment immigration lawyer: These are immigration solicitors who specialise in assisting businesses to immigrate to the UK. They also help business executives or employees with their visa applications and immigration advice.
Bilingual immigration lawyer: Immigration lawyers who can carry out the usual duties of a solicitor, including filing court applications, interviewing clients and representing clients in court when necessary. A bilingual immigration lawyer requires fluency in foreign languages to qualify for the role.
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