Becoming an Immigration Officer: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of an immigration officer career? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming an immigration officer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Immigration Officer Career

As an immigration officer, you are a federal employee working for the Department of Homeland Security on a variety of issues related to immigration. Here are some of the pros and cons of becoming an immigration officer to help you decide if this career choice is right for you.

Pros of an Immigration Officer Career
Salary above national average (mean annual salary of $54,000 for police and sheriff's patrol officers working on the federal level in 2014)*
Variety of available positions (immigration service officers, asylum officers, community relations officers, customs and border patrol officers)***
Opportunity to help protect the nation against terrorism and other dangers while helping people who qualify for entry and citizenship**
Able to use a combination of education and experience to qualify for most positions***

Cons of an Immigration Officer Career
Training required in addition to educational requirement***
Extensive background checks required, possibly including polygraph testing and financial disclosure***
Potentially high stress work***
Employers may be extremely selective (for example, only about one in ten tentatively selected customs and border protection officers passes all pre-employment screening)***

Sources: *Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, ***USA Job postings.

Essential Career Information

Career Options and Job Descriptions

Each immigration officer career has its own job description and areas of expertise. Immigration service officers specifically work in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS). They review any of the more complicated applications submitted by persons wanting to become U.S. citizens, and then they decide which applications are accepted or rejected. Immigration service officers also work with other federal agencies to help identify persons who might be a security threat. Asylum officers also work in the USCIS and judge the cases of persons seeking asylum in the United States.

Community relations officers are assigned a jurisdiction and maintain collaborative relationships with communities, organizations and community leaders who might be affected by USCIS policies. For example, a community relations officer might hold outreach meetings with persons from immigrant communities. Customs and border protection (CBP) officers work at U.S. ports of entry to enforce immigration, customs and agriculture laws. CBP officers interview or inspect all persons and transport at the country's borders in order to prevent illegal entry and permit citizens, legitimate travelers and legal goods into the country.

Salary and Job Prospects

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes immigration officers as police and sheriff patrol officers working under the Federal Executive branch. The mean salary for this group was about $54,000 per year in 2014. However, your salary for a federal job can vary based on your qualifications and level of experience for the position. The BLS also reported that expected job growth for police officers and detectives, which includes immigration officers, is five percent between 2012 and 2022.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training Requirements

Immigration service officer candidates must have experience in working with routine immigration issues. Asylum officer candidates should have experience analyzing immigration laws and preparing briefs. Higher education such as a master's degree, law degree or doctorate might be substituted for experience. You'll also have to take a basic immigration officer training for these positions. Asylum officer candidates must take an additional seven-week course before being hired; they're also required to travel, possibly for long periods, in order to interview applicants.

Community relations officer candidates must have experience opening communication with and collaborating with community organizations in order to collect their responses and opinions. Candidates must know how to maintain these relationships and write appropriate reports. They are responsible for both collecting and disseminating immigration information. There's no educational substitute for experience for this position.

Additional specific requirements for CBP officer candidates include a written test, two pre-employment physical fitness tests, a medical exam and a structured interview. Prior experience in immigration or in regulatory work (such as being an auditor or inspector) might help raise your pay grade. A bachelor's degree or graduate education can substitute for experience. CBP officer candidates might be required to be fluent in a second language and must also take a basic training course. There is also a maximum age limit of 37 for new applicants, unless you meet certain exception requirements.

Top Skills for Immigration Officers

While specific requirements can vary somewhat depending on position, certain key requirements must be met for all immigration officer positions:

  • All candidates must be U.S. citizens. Additionally, if you are applying to become a CPB officer, you'll need to have lived in the U.S. for at least three years.
  • You must clear a background test which, according to postings on the USA Jobs website, can be quite extensive. For CPB officer candidates, background testing also includes a polygraph test; since you'll have to carry a firearm, you must have no convictions for domestic violence. The investigation for immigration service and asylum officers includes financial disclosure. Community outreach officer candidates must qualify for secret-level clearance, and their financial disclosure might have to include delinquency in paying debts, child support or taxes.
  • All candidates must pass a drug screen. Your investigator might also want to know if you ever used or possessed illegal drugs in the past.

Real Job Postings

Immigration officers work for the Department of Homeland Security. These jobs are mostly found on the federal job board, USA Jobs. Here are a few of the postings that were listed in May 2012:

  • The USCIS has a few vacancies available for the position of asylum officer. Candidates would work full time in San Francisco, CA. In addition to the requirements listed above, you'll need a resume and all documents that support your qualifications.
  • The USCIS is looking to hire a community relations officer to work in Boston, MA. Duties include providing training to the local community and making sure USCIS policies reach the widest audience possible.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is hiring persons to become CPB officers, with many vacancies on the Southwest borders of the country. Currently, female officers are needed to process female travelers that might need to be detained or deported. For work in the Southwest, you'll need to pass a Spanish language proficiency test or pass a six-week Spanish language course.

How Can I Stand out?

USA Job postings and requirements tend to be long and detailed. Making sure you read the entire post and submitting all the documentation requested will help you stand out as an immigration officer candidate. Learning or brushing up on your foreign language skills should also help. Answer all questions truthfully, since your responses will be investigated. The Department of Homeland Security also recommends that if you are considering a CBP position and are not already in a fitness program, you should consider starting one as soon as possible to help you meet the rigorous training requirements.

According to USA Jobs, if you have a disability, were a VISTA volunteer, were in the Peace Corps or are a veteran you might already have skills the government is looking for. Documenting your experience according to the instructions in the job postings may increase your chances of getting hired.

Alternative Careers

Transportation Security Officer

If you want to work for the Department of Homeland Security, but are not as interested in immigration, you might consider becoming a transportation security officer (TSO). TSOs provide security in the nation's airports by screening all people, baggage and cargo being transported by air. Duties might include monitoring and controlling airport exit and entryways, performing searches and interacting with the public.

You must be a U.S. citizen or national, at least 18 years old and proficient in English. You'll need a high school diploma, equivalent certificate or at least one year of experience as an x-ray technician, a security officer or screener working in aviation. You'll have to pass a medical evaluation (including physical fitness test), a drug screen and a pre-employment background check. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for TSOs was $37,000 in 2011. Job growth for TSOs is expected to be at ten percent between 2010 and 2020.

Law Enforcement Officer

If you are interested in federal law enforcement but don't want to work for the Department of Homeland Security, you might want to become a law enforcement officer for the Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture. Some of the job duties for this position include disseminating information about the Forest Service to local, state, national and private organizations. Law enforcement officers also investigate law violations and might participate in hearings.

Entry-level candidates need a bachelor's degree or equivalent experience, including good oral and written communication skills, the ability to gather data, analyze problems and plan solutions. As noted above, the mean annual wage for federal police positions was $52,000 in 2011, and expected job growth for all police is expected to be at seven percent between 2010 and 2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
      • B.A. - Homeland Security
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
      • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Utica College

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
      • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
      • Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation
      • Online Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Financial Investigation
      • Online Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Fraud Prevention and Detection
    Certificate
      • Cyber Crime and Fraud Investigation Certificate
      • Cyber Network Defense Certificate
      • Financial Crimes Investigator Certificate
      • Financial Crime and Compliance Operations Cert
      • Monitoring, Surveillance, and Intelligence Operations Cert
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
      • PhD in Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • PhD in Business Admin - Criminal Justice
    Master's
      • MBA - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
      • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice Homeland Security
      • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Management
    Certificate
      • Post-masters Certificate Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    7. University of the Southwest

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Law Enforcement & Corrections
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. Criminal Justice
      • B.S. General Studies - Criminal Justice
    Associate's
      • A.S. Criminal Justice
      • A.S. General Studies - Criminal Justice
    Certificate
      • Undergraduate Certificate - Criminal Justice
  • Hammond, LA

    Southeastern Louisiana University

  • Highland Heights, KY

    Northern Kentucky University

Featured Schools

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - Homeland Security
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education?

Utica College

  • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
  • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
  • Cyber Crime and Fraud Investigation Certificate

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • Post-masters Certificate Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

What is your age?

University of the Southwest

  • MBA - Law Enforcement & Corrections

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice
  • B.S. Criminal Justice
  • A.S. Criminal Justice
  • Undergraduate Certificate - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?