How to Become a Border Patrol Agent

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Border patrol agents help to safeguard the borders of the United States against illegal trade and protect U.S. citizens from external enemies as well as undocumented immigrants. For this, they maintain, monitor and respond to electronic sensor alarms and use infrared scopes and other technological devices during their patrolling operations. Understanding the duties of a border patrol agent can help you make an informed decision about working in this profession. In this article, we discuss the steps you need to take to become a border patrol agent.

What does a border patrol agent do?

A border patrol agent is responsible for patrolling and protecting the land and coastal borders of the United States. The agents work to prevent the infiltration of illegal, undocumented immigrants into the country. They also try to curtail the activities of individuals who attempt to smuggle illegal goods across the border.

As the work is mentally and physically challenging, there is a rigorous selection criterion for border patrol agents. The requirements to join border patrol include being fit and having sound core values, being a U.S. citizen and being in residence in the country for at least three of the past five years. You must have a valid driver's license and a legal permit to carry a firearm. Once you are selected, you will undergo intensive on-the-job training. You should be prepared to travel, as domestic and international postings are part of the job scope.

Average salary for border patrol agents

According to Indeed Salaries, the average salary for a Border Patrol Agent in the United States is $69,549 per year.

How to become a border patrol agent

Follow these steps to become a border patrol agent:

1. Apply for a border patrol agent position

To become a U.S. border patrol agent, apply on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency website. Reassess the border patrol agent eligibility requirements and work scope. Then go to the government-approved USAJOBS portal and use the search feature to find open positions. You can then start the job application process and submit a well-formatted resume. It should include your educational qualifications and detailed work experience with the descriptions, dates and work hours of your exact duties. You should also submit all the required documents with your resume.

2. Take the border patrol entrance exam

The CBP allows you to select the location at which you can take the two-part border patrol entrance exam. First, there is the one-hour Experience Record test that you can take online from home. Second, there is the two-hour test for logical reasoning that you must take at a testing center. You don't have to take the entrance test if you qualify at the GL-9 level.

3. Initiate background investigation

You can file the standard investigative forms—SF 85 for low-risk positions and the SF 86 for security clearance and high-risk public positions—through the e-QIP application. You can enter and transmit your data for investigative purposes to the CBP.

4. Undergo a medical exam

A medical exam is necessary to assure the CBP agency that you are physically capable of handling the job functions. It will also establish that you don't have any serious health problems and are unlikely to endanger others. To pass the exam, you must have 20/20 vision with normal peripheral and color vision.

5. Take a physical fitness test

Due to the rigorous border patrol job requirements, applicants must be physically fit and must take a timed fitness test that consists of performing sit-ups and push-ups. You will also have to do a 14-inch step with 120 steps per minute. These tests can be tough if you aren't physically active, so you should sign up for CBP's standardized training program and practice in advance.

6. Attend a job interview

A three-person panel consisting of current border patrol agents will conduct a face-to-face structured interview. They will ask you hypothetical and probing questions to measure how well you do in four specific competencies necessary for the job:

  • Cooperativeness and sensitivity to the needs of others

  • Emotional maturity

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Judgment and decision-making

You must pass all four to move to the next stage of the hiring process.

7. Submit to a polygraph test

Ever since the Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010, a four- to six-hour polygraph test is mandatory. You must answer questions about national security issues and the information you gave in your application and background investigations forms. The polygraph will record your physiological responses.

8. Undergo a drug test

Since preventing the entry of illegal narcotics is part of the job scope, border patrol agents must follow strict standards of accountability. You will undergo a random drug test during the job application process and will progress to the next stage only if the test is negative.

Frequently asked questions about becoming a border patrol agent

If you're considering becoming a border patrol agent, it's important to know the following:

What are the different border patrol agent levels?

When you begin your career in border patrol, you will work in the entry-level GL-5, GL-7 and GL-9 positions. These positions often work on the southwestern U.S. border. You may then progress to handle newer duties and more responsibilities with the GS-11 and GS-12 positions at the journeyman level. You can move up to the more leadership-oriented GS-13, GS-14 and GS-14 positions with the supervisory level. The top level is the Senior Executive Service, which makes organizational decisions and provides information to Congress.

What are the typical duties of a border patrol agent?

Border patrol agents process incoming air, ship and land passengers, pedestrians, privately owned vehicles, cargo containers and imported products. They collect duties and taxes. They also refuse admission to ineligible people, intercept fraudulent documents and arrest wanted criminals. Additionally, they seize narcotics, illicit currency and illegal products.

What would disqualify someone from a border patrol agent position?

Disqualification from serving as a border patrol agent happens if you have engaged in the illegal drug trade or have a recent history of drug use. You will also face disqualification if you have convictions or charges of domestic violence. Further, you cannot work in border patrol if you have concealed or harbored an undocumented immigrant.

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