If you want to live or work in another country, there is often a maze
of paperwork. The laws can be confusing. The wait times can be nerve wracking.
Immigration lawyers help people navigate all of that. When necessary, they
make legal arguments for why a person should be allowed to live and work in
a new country.
Immigration law is still a rather small specialty within the legal profession.
But it's growing. The American Immigration Lawyers Association currently has
more than 10,000 members.
People hire immigration lawyers for various reasons. One common reason
is to help them through the refugee application process. People seek refugee
status when they fear persecution in their own country.
Immigration lawyers also help non-refugees apply to live and work in North
America. There are various categories for such applications. The lawyer helps
ensure they apply in the right category and that their documentation is in
People wanting to work in immigration law must first attend an accredited
law school, complete their articling (a period of apprenticeship required
in most places) and be called to the bar to work as a lawyer.
Some law schools offer courses in immigration law. But people working in
the area say it isn't necessary to specialize when in school.
"You can actually learn it afterwards," says Steven Riznyk. He is an immigration
lawyer in San Diego. "A lot of lawyers have successfully done it."
There are a number of personal qualities that aspiring immigration lawyers
"The first quality that I would look for in a good immigration lawyer is
character," says Andy Semotiuk. He's an immigration lawyer.
"Often you hear them saying, when people are engaging lawyers, â€˜I want
someone who's aggressive, someone who is a shark, someone who will fight for
me,'" says Semotiuk. "And the difficulty with that view in relation to hiring
someone is, if they're a shark related to how they treat your opponents, they're
also a shark in how they treat you.
"Secondly, I believe that a good immigration lawyer needs some contact
with immigration, either... by being an immigrant, or indirectly by perhaps
being related to parents or grandparents who were immigrants, or at least
[have] an interest in the immigrant experience," says Semotiuk. "And someone
who travels a lot and therefore is exposed to immigration issues and circumstances,
so that the person has firsthand experience with some of the trials and tribulations
of people who are immigrating to the country that they're representing."
Audrea Golding is a good example of an immigration lawyer with a personal
connection to the immigrant experience. She and her parents immigrated to
a number of countries. She says her personal experiences gave her empathy
and understanding for those who seek to emigrate for a better life.
"My parents are of Jamaican background and immigrated to the U.K. when
they were studying and immigrated to Canada during their studies, and also
to the U.S.," says Golding. "I was born in the U.S. but then immigrated to
Jamaica and then to Canada when I was growing up, and so I think [I have]
sort of a natural affinity with the area of law. I also got more introduced
to the practice of it, for immigration law itself, during law school."
Golding focuses on helping people move to the U.S. for employment reasons.
Her clients include multinational corporations in the aerospace, engineering
and information technology sectors. She also assists entertainers, artists
and athletes with securing visas so they can perform and work in North America.
Golding says there's a healthy need for lawyers in employment-based immigration
law. "I think there's probably a great demand," she says.
There's demand not only for lawyers helping workers come to North America,
says Golding. Lawyers are also needed to help people go to other countries.
"You sometimes think of immigration as people leaving less advanced countries
and coming to North America, but there certainly is... the flip side of that
equation, which is people going to countries where economies are growing at
a much more rapid pace than they are in North America," says Golding. "And
so I think in terms of global immigration... there's going to be an increased
demand and just as many if not more opportunities in the future for immigration
Riznyk also sees a lot of opportunity for immigration lawyers: "The opportunity
is always there for somebody who's good," he says.
Semotiuk agrees. "There will always be opportunities in immigration law,
and the reason is because it's a government program," he says. "And if you
ever deal with government on any level you know it's bureaucratic, it's tedious,
difficult, it's hard to get results, it's time consuming, it's frustrating.
And for this reason there's always room for someone like an immigration attorney
to smooth over the process and get things done."
Riznyk says you probably won't enjoy this career unless you try to be one
of the best. It takes a passion for immigration issues to put up with the
"If you're just going to be one of the pack, then you know what? You're
not going to enjoy it," says Riznyk. "Because it's a very high maintenance
kind of career to have... The clients are scared, their life's on the line,
they're calling you, sometimes they're in tears, sometimes they're impatient
with the immigration department, and they take it out on you."
In addition to the stress of the work, Riznyk notes that immigration lawyers
tend to earn less than most other kinds of lawyers.
"If someone's thinking of going into immigration law and they're doing
it for the money, it's going to be their biggest career mistake," he says.
"You have to have a passion for what you're doing. You have to believe in
what you're doing."
Therefore, make sure you go into this area for the right reasons, such
as a strong interest in immigration issues or personal experience with immigration.
If you do it for the right reasons, immigration law can be a very rewarding
way to make a huge difference in people's lives.
Find about the historic first stop for millions of immigrants
into the United States
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Read all about immigration issues in the United States