U.S. immigration law, bound by the Immigration and Naturalization Act, is a highly stimulating area of law based on the principles of the reunification of families, the admission of immigrants with skills valuable to the U.S. economy, and the promotion of diversity.
It is also a swiftly growing area of law ripe with opportunities for paralegals that possess advanced knowledge of the complexities surrounding the path to U.S. citizenship.
Between 2000 and 2012, our nation’s immigrant population grew from 31.1 million to nearly 41 million, making immigration lawyers—and the paralegals that work alongside them—a valuable component of the legal system.
What is a Paralegal in Immigration Law?
Paralegals in immigration law, under the guidance and supervision of immigration lawyers, help clients immigrate to the U.S.
Although not all immigration efforts require the aid of legal professionals, immigration lawyers are able to advise clients regarding changes to U.S. immigration law; help their clients choose the best course of action; represent their clients in court; and prepare and file all necessary documents.
Paralegals help immigration lawyers expedite cases by completing and submitting all forms and documents in a timely manner; communicating with the appropriate government agencies; communicating with clients throughout the process; and preparing for litigation, if necessary.
Job Duties and Responsibilities of Paralegals in Immigration Law
Whether employed in law offices, private corporations, or government agencies, immigration law paralegals facilitate the citizenship process.
Their job duties and responsibilities include:
- Creating and maintaining a calendar to ensure the timely filing of petitions, applications, and extensions
- Drafting applications and petitions and coordinating the filing of applications and petitions
- Drafting, receiving, and filing letters, affidavits, and other correspondence supporting applications and petitions
- Researching client documents (birth certificates, police records, marriage records, etc.) and helping clients obtain them
- Preparing clients for Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) interviews
- Serving as a liaison between the INS, the Department of Labor (DOL), and attorneys
Becoming an Immigration Law Paralegal: Education and Certification Options
The first step to becoming an immigration law paralegal involves completing a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
The ABA approves paralegal programs at every level, from certificate programs to associate degree programs to bachelor’s degree programs. Although there is no minimum educational requirement to become a paralegal, most paralegal associations, including the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), recommend a program of at least 60 semester credits, along with an internship of at least 6 months.
Earning Professional Certification in Immigration Law
Due to the complexity of immigration law, certificate programs in immigration law are a common pursuit among paralegals.
Most programs require students to possess a degree in paralegal studies and/or paralegal experience for admission. Many certificate programs are offered through distance-based study.
Graduates are awarded a certificate of completion after demonstrating proficiency in topics that include:
- Asylum and other protection issues
- Visas/visa classifications and sponsorship
- Temporary work visas
- Overview of governmental agencies
- Citizenship, naturalization, and expatriation
- Homeland Security issues
- Family-based residency
- Deportation and removal proceedings
- Compliance issues
- Diversity lottery
- Nonimmigrant categories
- Dual citizenship
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) offers a Basic Immigration Law Course, which focuses immigration law and the role of the paralegal in this law specialty.
Many paralegals also pursue advanced specialty certification in immigration law, such as the ILRC’s National Paralegal Training Program. Graduates of this 40-hour program earn the Board of Immigration (BIA) certification.