What is it Like to Work as an Immigration Paralegal?
By Brianna Flavin on 10/12/2023
Some paralegals come to the profession because the world of law appeals to them, and they like that you don’t have to spend multiple years gaining education to do the highly-professional, important work.
Others come to the field because they are passionate about a specific aspect of legal work. If you care about immigration issues, for example, working as an immigration paralegal is one of the quickest ways to work full-time inside that system.
“When I first started as an immigration paralegal, I had no idea how diverse it would be,” says Diana Bospachieva, principal immigration case manager at Fredrikson & Byron, P.A..
“There are so many areas within immigration. There’s never time to be bored.”
Immigration law is complicated and multi-faceted. You could work with asylum seekers, refugees, naturalization, I-9 compliance and corporate global affairs, or even shaping immigration policy. Immigration paralegals can also work “in house” on a legal team for a company with a presence in multiple countries or hiring international employees.
Before you can really consider this career, you need some questions answered. What does an immigration paralegal do? You've probably worked out that they work alongside immigration attorneys and other basics. But that doesn't really give you much. Beyond the job description—what are immigration paralegal jobs like? What does an immigration paralegal enjoy about the role? Would you enjoy it too?
“I’ve been in the field 20 years, but I’m constantly learning new things,” Bospachieva says.
If you are curious about working as an immigration paralegal, read on. These insights from an experienced immigration paralegal can give you an idea of what a day in the life is like.
What does an immigration paralegal do?
“What paralegals do varies a lot,” Bospachieva says. “In immigration, attorneys utilize paralegals in very high-level work product.”
Bospachieva drafts complex documents like petitions and forms related to their cases. Her firm focuses on business immigration issues, and some of her clients are corporations who want to hire international employees. She meets with clients, handles correspondence and helps solve problems.
And even routine immigration processes can get complex—fast. Since everyone has a different circumstance and different industries they are immigrating to work for, Bospachieva and the legal team need to get creative and problem-solve pretty much every day.
“We just got citizenship for a client applying for permanent residence from Mexico,” she says. “It’s been a complicated case because one of his children is an adult and the other is nearing the ‘age-out’ threshold.” This situation left plenty of doubt as to whether the youngest would be allowed to stay.
“Now I’m jumping with joy!” she emphasizes. "We helped a family and made sure they all stayed together, and I got to research possible solutions and find the process that might work.”
In this situation, the oldest child had her own path to residency, but the younger child was nearing their 21st birthday, where they’d no longer be allowed to stay as a dependent.
“It was a case where approval seemed slim,” Bospachieva says. “The father wanted to ensure his youngest could hold permanent residency with them, and we had to get creative.”
So Bospachieva dove into the legal research, and the whole legal team put their heads together to brainstorm different avenues of paperwork. Which process to follow? Which forms to use? In the end, the process they chose allowed the child to become a permanent resident with the family.
“We like to celebrate our victories.” Bospachieva says. When they succeed, they meet and call out the team members who worked on the case, and the unique contributions they gave.
As an immigration paralegal, you might take on the following tasks.
Meeting with clients
Immigration paralegals handle a lot of correspondence, meeting with clients to walk them through documents. “These processes are extremely hard to navigate without guidance.”
Bospachieva fields questions from clients on a daily basis as well. She will go through emails and phone calls, following up on requests for information, noting challenges, explaining processes and connecting people with the resources or representatives they need.
“It’s pretty complicated, and I like guiding them through these complexities.”
She also creates and monitors schedules, reminding both clients and attorneys of important deadlines.
Expect to do a lot of writing as a paralegal, especially as an immigration paralegal. All the email correspondence is one part of that. But there are also tons of different documents to prepare and write. Many immigration paralegals paralegals often partner with attorneys to draft complex documentation.
“We have technical writers and research paralegals who really focus on one type of document or process we handle often. If a new paralegal really gravitates to the writing, we help them specialize.”
Research, research, research
Immigration involves federal law. In Bospachieva’s firm, attorneys are licensed to practice across the whole United States, and their clients come from all over the country, as well as across the world.
“We serve companies who have headquarters in Canada, Europe, Asia. They might need to bring employees across all sorts of borders. And there are so many different industries that have different paperwork or situations.”
Tracking down the right information and learning about the law and the systems pertaining to the specific industry trying to hire an international client, and the countries involved—there’s so much information, expect to log some serious research hours. As you might expect, research and translation skills can both come in handy for this role.
Is working in immigration different from other types of law for paralegals?
In some ways, working as a paralegal is similar no matter which branch of law you are in. But there are a few things that make the role of immigration paralegal unique. For one thing, the job will look very different depending on the type of immigration law your firm handles, Bospachieva explains. “All attorneys have slightly different background and focus.”
Immigration paralegals could work within…
- Global immigration
- Humanitarian immigration
- Naturalization (continuing past citizenship)
- I-9 compliance and business
In all of these focuses, Bospachieva notes that things will likely be less clear-cut than they seem. For one thing, immigration cases almost always involve families and family networks. People don’t want to leave their loved ones or their children behind when they relocate to a new country.
Immigration cases also involve both the country of origin and the community immigrants move to. Depending on which phase of the immigration process you work most with, your work could focus on the original nation, the new one, or both.
The opportunity for pro bono work
While it’s not unique to immigration, immigration paralegals and attorneys might have pro bono hours set aside for cases where they won’t ask the clients to pay for their legal services.
“Our firm is big on pro bono work,” Bospachieva says. “We partner with advocates for human rights and many different organizations.” With these hours, Bospachieva can choose which cases she wants to work on, to dedicate those hours to. This allows immigration paralegals the chance to try something new or branch out a little to see what they like.
A more routine schedule
Another thing that makes the business side of immigration law a little different is the consistency of the schedule. Bospachieva says their deadlines and processes have a pretty routine cadence.
“We have deadlines, but it’s very different from court practice where you’ll have multiple short deadlines. Our deadlines aren’t as overwhelming. You can really set time aside to work on something.”
Lots of differentiation depending on the employer
“I’ve worked at a lot of law firms, and our practice is very large in comparison to some,” Bospachieva says, adding that the size of your firm makes a big difference in the scope of work you might take on.
Paralegals in a global law firm might focus on one specific process that their organization needs every day. Paralegals in tiny firms might take on a wide variety of tasks, filling in wherever needed.
“The role of an in-house immigration paralegal would be totally different from this,” Bospachieva adds. “It really depends who you work for.”
What skills will an immigration paralegal need?
As you can see, you’d need a different skill set for different demands in all these choices. But there are some things Bospachieva says pretty much every immigration paralegal will need.
Immigration paralegals (and most paralegals) need to manage multiple things at once, constantly. “Our paralegals are able to put things down, pick something up really quick, and switch gears through the day,” Bospacheiva says.
You’ll need to keep different priorities going at the same time without losing track of something. “It may seem like there are so many moving parts, but there are processes in place to help everyone.”
Teamwork and collaboration
In this role, you need to be able to work well with others. That isn’t just about working with attorneys, but also other paralegals, clients and representatives for the organizations your firm interacts with.
“You’re not flying solo. You’re working as a group.” Bospachieva says her firm has small client teams dedicated to certain clients, as well as teams who focus on certain processes they frequently need to handle.
An immigration paralegal can expect to participate in lots of team meetings. “Any time there’s a new law or change, we get together as a team to share knowledge and ask questions.”
Written and oral communication
Paralegals as a group need super strong communication skills. You have to be able to write a professional and clear email, to talk on the phone, video chat and communicate in person. Paralegals are often the point person for everyone on a case, so a huge part of your job will be making sure everyone understands what is going on and what steps are coming next.
You will also need to focus on the details to get every aspect of a legal document correct. Mistakes on immigration forms, appeals or correspondence are a very big deal.
Utilizing what you’re great at
On top of those skills, Bospachieva notes that many firms will try to support their immigration paralegals in finding the parts of the role they excel in.
“We all have different strengths, and our principal paralegal managers focus on different things.” Bospachieva really enjoys onboarding new team members and training them, so her role has come to include more of that type of work over time.
Where do immigration paralegals work?
Surprisingly, immigration paralegals have tons of options for their working environment. In this role you can find opportunities to work for…
- Legal firms of all sizes
- Non-profit and advocacy organizations
- An immigration practice group
- The federal government
- Businesses and corporate offices in many industries
- Fully remote and hybrid positions
Private law firms will offer a different experience than non-profits like The Legal Aid Society in New York--and there are big differences between small firms and the largest law firms. Most immigration paralegals can expect to keep regular business hours working in an office or a remote position.
“You can look for firms with a certain arrangement,” Bospachieva says. “I know friends who are 100% remote. Look at the size of the law firm and their locations. Look where the clients are located.”
Since immigration often involves clients and representatives all over the world, remote positions are possibly a bit more common for immigration paralegals than other specializations.
Bospachieva’s department meets on site 2-3 times a week and works from home on the other days. “We have a department calendar where we can let immediate team members know where we are, or if we have an appointment. I find it really flexible which is great.”
A smaller firm will likely have less flexibility in some of these options, and an in-house immigration paralegal (often called a global mobility specialist or immigration specialist) would likely work in their corporation’s offices and keep the same arrangement as their company.
Take a close look at the expertise and focus area of each immigration attorney in an organization you are curious about. Bospachieva says you can use those insights to target your job search and even your immigration paralegal resume at the type of work you are most interested in.
What are the immigration paralegal career advancement options?
Some paralegals come to the career to see how they will like the world of legal work. They may decide they want to become an attorney farther down the road. But Bospachieva says immigration paralegal jobs aren't a stop on the way to other roles. This is a specific specialty you can gain experience and advancement in.
“We like to hire paralegals who are committed to being a paralegal—career paralegals,” Bospachieva says. To that end, her department created a very clear advancement structure involving steps up to senior paralegal, principal immigration manager, client relationship manager and more.
This way, an immigration paralegal can either take on more management and training responsibilities or specialize more directly in the parts of immigration work they are drawn to. “We listen to our staff and train them according to where they want to be. Paralegals are integral to what we do.”
It makes a huge difference for their firm to have low turnover with their paralegals. They get the chance to really build a solid working relationship with the whole legal team. “We really enjoy working with each other, and many of us have worked together for decades,” Bospachieva says.
“For me personally, it’s been rewarding to grow as a paralegal and gain more complex responsibilities.”
Are you interested in immigration paralegal jobs?
“This is a rewarding career, and you will learn so much about different cultures and countries,” Bospachieva says. “And it’s exciting! The law is changing all the time. Even though there hasn’t been a large immigration reform in a while, new things come up from the government constantly.”
Since an immigration paralegal works on so many types of projects, you can also gravitate to the tasks you really enjoy. If this detailed immigration paralegal job description sounds like the kind of career you’ve been looking for, you might wonder what it takes to get there.
Becoming a paralegal does require some education beyond a high school degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most paralegals either need an Associate’s degree in paralegal studies or a paralegal certificate paired with a bachelor’s degree in any field.
A paralegal degree program will train you to assist lawyers, understand legal processes and handle case management. Bospachieva went into the field with a bachelor's degree in business and says much of the specific immigration paralegal education happens on the job, as you adjust to the type of work your employer needs.
The step into education is a big one, so you may need some questions answered before you can really decide if you want to pursue a paralegal career.
Find details like potential job outcomes, the cost of tuition, how long a general paralegal program takes and more, by reading about Rasmussen’s Associate’s degree program in paralegal studies.
Or if you already have a Bachelor’s degree, check out our paralegal certificate program.