How to Become an Immigration Officer: The Complete Guide

A career to make a difference.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

How to Become an Immigration Officer

According to a report by the United Nations, international immigrants make up around 3.5% of the world’s population. While some leave their homes to study, join family abroad or find work opportunities, others are forced to do so to escape conflict or severe human rights violations.

Currently, the United States attracts the biggest number of immigrants from around the world compared to any other nation, with over 810,000 people applying each year to become Lawful Permanent Residents, or green card holders. About 88% of those are approved.

Of course, behind every successful application is an immigration officer who offered up their time and support. Let’s talk about this in more detail: what immigration officers do, how much they earn, and how to become one!

What is an immigration officer?

Immigration officers work for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, within the Department of Homeland Security. Their role is to ensure that the nation’s immigration system operates smoothly. Depending on their role, their day-to-day tasks can vary from providing support to interviewing candidates and identifying false information.

What does an immigration officer do?

Let’s talk about the duties that an immigration officer must carry out during a typical workweek, depending on their exact role within USCIS:

  • Help qualifying immigrants fill out their applications
  • Process applications and interview candidates, requesting additional documentation if needed
  • Identify false or misleading information provided by visa, asylum or citizenship applicants
  • Grant or deny applicants’ petitions
  • Stay up to date with policies and regulations to carry out their job as required

What is their work environment?

Immigration officers work indoors, in an office setting, although their role may sometimes require them to travel. There are three positions that an immigration officer can take on:

  • For the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security, where their duties revolve around tracing applications that contain false or misleading information
  • As immigration information officers, helping immigrants who meet the legal criteria for entry or residence fill out their applications correctly
  • As immigration services officers, responsible for processing the applications and interviewing candidates for asylum, visas or citizenship

What are their work hours?

Most immigration officers work full time, or 40-hour weeks, Monday through Friday. Typically, their workday begins at 8am and finishes at 5pm.

Though less common, part-time government jobs are also available, although benefits such as paid leave may be granted differently, depending on the number of hours worked. Full-time USCIS employees are entitled to 11 paid holidays a year, and up to 26 days of annual leave and 13 days of sick leave.

How much do immigration officers earn?

USCIS follows the General Schedule pay scale. Each job that becomes available within the agency gets classified according to this system and based on its level of difficulty and responsibility. Normally, entry-level roles requiring bachelor’s degrees (such as immigration officer roles) qualify for the GS-5 paygrade. That’s approximately $31,000–$40,400 a year.

According to, the average annual salary for immigration officers in the US is $55,818–$77,652. The same data shows that, out of all 50 states, California, New York and Massachusetts offer the highest salaries for immigration officers. That’s $82,696, $77,73 and $73,646 a year respectively.

What is the job market like?

According to the World Migration Report, international migration has increased dramatically over the 1990–2020 period. Though Europe and Asia have seen larger numbers of immigration compared to the US and other regions, international migration to North America still rose sharply over the three decades: from 27.6 million in 1990 to 58.7 million in 2020.

Given how steadily immigration is rising all around the world, the need for immigration officers is also expected to keep growing.

Though chatbots and online self-service tools have replaced client- and customer-facing positions in multiple industries, it is unlikely that immigration officers will lose their jobs to AI. Human-to-human interactions (even over the phone) are essential to immigration processes to ensure the fair treatment of applicants, as well as that screenings are carried out meticulously and, critically, to protect public safety and national security.

What are the entry requirements?

Immigration officer jobs require a mix of soft and technical skills, as well as some specialized knowledge.


Bachelor’s degrees are normally the minimum education requirement for entry-level immigration officer positions. Some degrees you can pursue if you’re interested in a job in this field include criminal justice, political science, international studies or law, or even a foreign language.

In some cases, having experience working for the federal government can act as a substitute to the degrees mentioned above.


Whether they’re interviewing people, helping applicants fill out forms or verifying the validity of submitted documents, immigration officers need to demonstrate strong attention to detail. Two other vital soft skills they must possess are empathy and communication skills. In terms of hard skills, computer literacy is essential.

Personal qualities

Immigration officers work with individuals from all sorts of backgrounds and are called to make decisions that have a significant and direct impact on people’s lives. That’s why, in terms of personal qualities, they must be able to demonstrate integrity, friendliness and curiosity, in addition to the skills outlined above.

Do you have what it takes?

Deciding on the right career path can be tricky. After all, a person’s skills, personality, and interests can render them a strong candidate for different professions, not just one.

If you’re on the fence, you could benefit from looking at data-backed recommendations when making a choice, such as the insights from our career-matching platform, CareerHunter. Built by a team of career experts and psychologists, CareerHunter comprises six assessments and matches your profile up against a database of 250+ professions.

Take our work personality test for free

How to become an immigration officer

Aspiring immigration officers typically follow these five steps to land the role that interests them under USCIS:

Step 1: Get your bachelor’s degree

The first step to working as an immigration officer is getting your bachelor’s degree. As mentioned, some popular topics for aspiring officers include criminal justice, foreign languages, and international studies or law.

Though a master’s degree isn’t typically a requirement, it could equip you with more specialized knowledge and help your application stand out. The same goes for knowing how to speak a second language: viewed as an asset, it can boost your chances of getting hired.

Step 2: Create a USAJOBS profile

Once you’ve got your degree, you must register on the federal government’s official employment site, USAJOBS. There, you can search through available job openings using keywords and filters to find an opportunity that suits you. You can also set up alerts to get notified when new vacancies open up.

Step 3: Apply for a role at USCIS

When you find a role that interests you, read through the job description carefully and prepare your résumé in a way that incorporates keywords from the listing. The more closely you can match your experience and qualifications to the requirements of the role, the higher your chances of being invited to an interview.

Once you’ve submitted all necessary documents within the deadline provided, you can monitor the progress of your application using the tracking feature on USAJOBS.

Step 4: Pass the interview and screening process

If your application gets selected by human resources, it will get passed on to the hiring manager. They, in turn, might require additional supporting materials from you, such as a writing sample. This is the step within the hiring process that, if all goes well, normally gets followed by a job interview.

Barring any hiccups in the process, you will then receive a tentative job offer. Before you can begin working as an immigration officer, you’ll need to pass a drug test and background checks.

Step 5: Complete the USCIS training program

Contact center and field immigration services officers must undergo training at the USCIS Academy Training Center. Though USCIS provides online self-service tools for people looking to immigrate to the US, in-person help is often still required, particularly in cases where language becomes a barrier.

Anyone looking to work as an immigration services officer must successfully complete the six-week training program at ACT.


Do you still have some questions? Let’s expand on a few more topics.

Q: What’s the difference between an immigration officer and an immigration enforcement officer?

Unlike immigration officers who deal with visa, asylum and citizenship applications in an office setting, immigration law enforcement officers work under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and their role is to combat cross-border crime and illegal immigration.

Q: Who can apply for a job at the Department of Homeland Security?

Finding work within the Department of Homeland Security comes with a set of minimum requirements. These include:

  • Being a US citizen
  • Being at least 18 years of age
  • Passing a series of tests, checks and examinations, including a background check and drug test

Q: Does USCIS have any special hiring programs?

USCIS’ mission is to “uphold America’s promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity, and respect for all”. In true light of that, the agency is an equal employment opportunity employer and offers hiring programs for people with disabilities, veterans, recent graduates and other applicants.

Final thoughts

Working as an immigration officer can be a rewarding career path, as you’ll be making a difference in the lives of countless people over your lifetime. If interpersonal skills are among your strongest, and you can handle a bit of stress in the workplace (because, let’s be honest: you will have a lot to work through!), then this could be the ideal profession for you.

Now that we’ve looked at the typical work environment, working hours, duties and requirements, tell us: do you see yourself working as an immigration officer?