14 Pros and Cons of Being an Immigration Lawyer
Updated January 26, 2023
Immigration lawyers work with individuals and businesses to help them understand laws and proceedings related to immigration. There are many advantages to becoming an immigration lawyer, such as the ability to help people, though there are also some disadvantages to this career. If you're interested in immigration law, it's important to consider both the benefits and challenges of this profession so you can determine if it's a career you want to pursue. In this article, we explain what this type of lawyer does and describe some pros and cons of being an immigration lawyer.
What does an immigration lawyer do?
An immigration lawyer advises clients and businesses on legal matters related to immigration, which is the process of coming to the U.S. from another country to live or work. These lawyers represent their clients in court proceedings, assist them with legal documents and provide recommendations based on their understanding of immigration law. For example, an immigration lawyer may help citizens of other countries apply for work visas, or they may help an immigrant understand the pathway to citizenship. They may also help employees of businesses relocate to a foreign country to expand operations in a new geographic area.
Related: How To Become an Immigration Lawyer
Pros of being an immigration lawyer
If you're interested in a legal career, there are many reasons to consider becoming an immigration lawyer. Reviewing some advantages of this profession can help you decide whether to pursue a career in immigration law. Here are seven advantages of being an immigration lawyer:
1. Helping others
Often, immigration lawyers help their clients through important transitions in their lives. For example, they can help a foreign citizen apply for citizenship to the U.S. to improve their livelihood. These lawyers can also defend the rights of immigrants to ensure they're treated fairly and assist people who want to come to the U.S. to work or study. As an immigration lawyer, your work could have a profound impact on many people, which can help you find fulfillment in this job.
2. Meeting people
Working in this profession can introduce you to many people from different countries who want to immigrate to the U.S. While representing someone in court or helping them navigate the citizenship process, you work closely with those individuals and learn more about their beliefs, customs and culture. In this way, working as an immigration lawyer can help you broaden your worldview, understand others' viewpoints and develop more empathy for people.
3. Learning different areas of law
Immigration law often intersects with various other areas of the law, such as criminal, business and family law. As an immigration lawyer, you may research and become knowledgeable about many of these areas to help you successfully defend or represent a client. This continued development can be a benefit of the profession for those who enjoy learning new skills and broadening their knowledge. It can also help you continue to find intellectual stimulation in your job.
4. Varying types of employers
Immigration lawyers can work for many types of employers. Some choose to work for large legal firms that have an immigration department, while others work for small practices that specialize in immigration law. Some immigration lawyers choose to work for government agencies or nonprofit organizations, where they can advise clients who may lack resources to get legal representation. There are many types of jobs that immigration lawyers can pursue with their background and education.
5. Opening a practice
While there are many employment opportunities for immigration lawyers, many of these professionals choose to open their own practices, especially after they've gained some experience in the field. These entrepreneurship opportunities can be attractive options for professionals who want to choose their clients and establish their own work hours. Immigration lawyers with their own practice can also set their billable rates, which means they may have a higher earning potential than others in the industry.
6. Advancing your career
Gaining experience as an immigration lawyer can help prepare you for various career advancement options. Many immigration lawyers become faculty members at universities to teach students about the various aspects of immigration law. Others advance in the legal industry to become immigration judges, which allows them to make citizenship decisions on behalf of individuals. Some immigration lawyers choose to go into politics as a legislative aid for an elected official, while others may run for a political office themselves.
Related: 20 Legal Career Opportunities
7. Improving your job outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for lawyers, which includes those practicing immigration law, is strong. The agency expects employment in this field to grow 9% by 2030, which is about as fast as the average rate of occupations in the general workforce. BLS attributes the increase to an expected demand for legal services from individuals, businesses and government agencies. Some companies may also develop or increase their legal departments to reduce costs, according to BLS, which may lead to opportunities for immigration lawyers in financial or consulting firms.
Cons of being an immigration lawyer
While there are many benefits of a career in immigration law, it's also important to understand some challenges of working in this area. Comparing these drawbacks with the benefits of the profession can help you determine whether it's the right career for you. Here are seven cons of being an immigration lawyer:
1. Long path to employment
Becoming a practicing immigration lawyer can take many years. The educational requirements for these positions typically include a four-year undergraduate degree in a related area, such as political science or international studies, and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, which usually takes three years to complete. After completing law school, some aspiring immigration lawyers work as associates at law firms to gain experience, while others offer their legal services for free to help them build a client base and reputation. Because the path to employment as an immigration lawyer can be long, it requires self-discipline and internal motivation.
2. Adverse mental health impacts
Immigration lawyers often work with clients who have experienced a traumatic event that's led them to want to immigrate. For example, these lawyers may work with people living in countries with civil unrest to help them gain residency in the U.S. Because of the situations they may witness at work, some immigration lawyers may experience adverse impacts on their mental health. To work as an immigration lawyer, it's important to have the ability to separate work from other areas of your life so you can maintain your mental health.
3. Frequently changing laws
Immigration lawyers are responsible for staying updated on changes to immigration law, which can evolve rapidly. They research new or updated laws by reading news articles, researching other cases and speaking with others who work in immigration law. Many immigration lawyers choose to take continuing education classes so they can strengthen their knowledge of the law to help them do their jobs effectively. In addition to their responsibilities to their clients, immigration lawyers often spend a lot of time staying informed about changing laws.
4. More job requirements
Compared with other types of lawyers, there may be additional job requirements for those working in immigration law. Some employers prefer to hire immigration lawyers who also have experience in other areas of law, such as civil law. In addition, because these lawyers often represent clients who live outside of the U.S., some employers may require immigration lawyers to speak multiple languages so they can communicate effectively. These increased job requirements can make it more difficult for some lawyers to find jobs in the field, particularly at the beginning of their careers.
5. Stressful work
Immigration lawyers often represent clients who are going through difficult times in their lives. They may work with people who feel scared or nervous about the prospect of being removed from the country or frustrated with lengthy and complex immigration processes. Some lawyers may put increased pressure on themselves to represent their clients in a way that results in a positive outcome for them, which can lead them to feel stressed and overwhelmed with their work.
6. Lower salary
Though immigration lawyers can make lucrative salaries, they often make less than lawyers who specialize in other areas of the law. On average, immigration lawyers make $69,505 per year. In comparison, a corporate lawyer, who represents businesses in areas such as tax law, makes an average salary of $142,018 per year. Many immigration lawyers can increase their annual salaries as they gain experience in the field, and they can also have a higher earning potential if they open their own practice.
Related: 12 Highest-Paying Jobs for Lawyers
7. Unhealthy work-life balance
Many immigration lawyers, particularly those just starting in the field, often work long hours compared with other professionals. When they're reviewing documents and researching immigration laws to prepare for a case, it's common for these lawyers to work between 60 and 80 hours per week. These long hours can affect their work-life balance, though many consider the impacts of their work and their ability to help others to be worth the time they spend on a case.
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