- 1 Working as an Immigration Paralegal
- 2 Where Does an Immigration Paralegal Work?
- 3 Immigration Paralegal Salary
- 4 What are the Duties of an Immigration Paralegal? ( Immigration Paralegal Job Description )
- 5 What Skills Should an Immigration Paralegal Possess?
- 6 Can Immigration Paralegals Represent Clients or Give Them Advice?
- 7 How Does an Agency Become Recognized so that Immigration Paralegals Can Represent Clients?
- 8 How Does an Immigration Paralegal Become Qualified to Represent Clients?
- 9 Are There Any Other Ways Immigration Paralegals Can Service Clients Directly?
Working as an Immigration Paralegal
One of the major advantage of having an immigration paralegal do work rather than an attorney is cost. Often immigrants are short on money so this is a field in which paralegals can greatly increase access to legal services. On the other end, corporations which hire a lot of immigrants may hire paralegals to monitor compliance with immigration laws and to assist their workforce in becoming properly documented.
Where Does an Immigration Paralegal Work?
Immigration paralegals can work for law firms, businesses, non-profits or the government. Those who work for law firms will find their role to be similar to that of any other paralegal–doing work for which an attorney takes responsibility. Businesses may hire paralegals to interface with government agencies and monitor necessary paperwork when the business hires a substantial number of immigrants. Paralegals who work for the government may work for a variety of agencies with different goals. Most of the independent immigration paralegals tend to be those who work for non-profits as they are allowed to give legal advice and directly represent clients.
Immigration Paralegal Salary
Salaries for Immigration paralegals do not differ greatly from other paralegal salaries, and vary depending on the experience and duties of the paralegal and the type of employer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average paralegal salary in 2014 was $51,840 but a detailed search for the term “ immigration paralegal salary “ shows that the immigration paralegal salary range is between $37000 and $55000.
What are the Duties of an Immigration Paralegal? ( Immigration Paralegal Job Description )
While the duties of an immigration paralegal vary depending on the type of job or employer, the duties mainly involve the forms that are necessary for immigration or the employment of non-U.S. Citizens. Paralegals either independently (in the case of Accredited Representatives (see below)) or under the supervision of an attorney, speak with clients to obtain the necessary information to complete the forms necessary to meet the client’s objective (and the client may be the foreign national or his/her employer), help with immigration forms, submit them to the proper agencies and follow-up as necessary. These forms can include applications for permanent residence, applications for citizenship, and various types of visas. Accredited Representatives may attend hearings and represent their clients there.
Paralegals who support attorneys that litigate immigration cases may draft pleadings, cite check briefs, do legal research, interview witnesses, prepare trial exhibits and assist at trial.
What Skills Should an Immigration Paralegal Possess?
Fluency in a foreign language is a job requirement for may immigration paralegal jobs. Of course, the language spoken should be one that is spoken by a large number of immigrants in the paralegal’s locale.
Immigration paralegals often deal with people who are frightened and overwhelmed by the system so good people skills are a must.
Since so much of immigration practice involves forms, immigration paralegals must be organized and have an eye for detail.
A paralegal who will be representing clients directly must have a strong understanding of immigration law, as well as a keen sense of his or her own limitations. The knowledge of the law is necessary to become accredited, but the paralegal needs to know when to refer the client to an attorney.
Can Immigration Paralegals Represent Clients or Give Them Advice?
Surprisingly, the answer to this question may be affirmative. The Board of Immigration Appeals and the Immigration and Naturalization Service are two of the agencies that allow non-lawyer representation. In order to represent clients in front of the Board of Immigration Appeals or the Immigration and Naturalization Service, paralegals have to be employed by a non-profit that is recognized by those agencies and then must become accredited representative.
How Does an Agency Become Recognized so that Immigration Paralegals Can Represent Clients?
8 CFR § 292.2 sets forth the requirements for agencies that want to have non-attorneys represent immigration clients. The agency must be a “ non-profit religious, charitable, social service, or similar organization ” and may only charge “ nominal charges ”. It must have “ at its disposal adequate knowledge, information and experience ”. In other words, these agencies must be there to serve clients, not to make money for practitioners, and they must, either through experience or attorney supervision, be knowledgeable enough to offer supervision to the paralegal.
An organization that wants to become recognized so that immigration paralegals can represent clients must submit an application to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The Board reviews the application and decides whether or not to grant it.
How Does an Immigration Paralegal Become Qualified to Represent Clients?
Once an immigration paralegal is employed by an accredited agency the agency (not the paralegal) may submit an application for the paralegal to become an accredited representative. The application must set forth “ the experience and knowledge of immigration and naturalization law and procedure ”. Common ways of doing this are listing the work experience of the paralegal along with any immigration law seminars or courses taken. If the application is granted, it remains valid for three years, as long as the paralegal remains employed with the same agency and as long as the agency remains recognized. If the paralegal changes employment, the new employer must submit an application for the immigration paralegal to become accredited through them, and if the agency loses its recognition, the immigration paralegal loses his or her accreditation.
Are There Any Other Ways Immigration Paralegals Can Service Clients Directly?
Yes, but they must be cautious to avoid unauthorized practice of law. While accredited representatives are allowed not only to appear in front of the Immigration and Naturalization Service or the Board of Immigration Appeals, but also are allowed to offer advice about immigration matters and to assist clients determine what procedures need to be undertaken, other non-attorneys offering immigration assistance are allowed to help clients fill out forms, to translate forms and to gather supporting information and documents. They are not allowed to tell the clients which forms they should use or what proceedings to start.
Paralegals who want to help the less fortunate and to work with a high degree of independence may thrive in the job of an Accredited Representative. Those who want to work for large companies may find that being an immigration paralegal for a company that employs a large number of foreign nationals is a way to get in the door. Since there are also many law firms who employ immigration paralegals, it is a field that gives paralegals a lot of flexibility as far as work environment goes. Since it is an area of law that most attorneys and paralegals never touch, those who become expert in the specific forms and procedures involved in immigration law can find themselves in high demand.