Immigration has become a thorny issue in recent years, and in many Western countries, including the US, governments seem unable to develop policies to accept immigrants while appeasing their populations.
Migration is a fact of life, and it is how the world, ancient and modern, has developed. People migrated thousands of years ago in search of food, better weather and land to settle in.
Today’s reasons for immigration are more nuanced but not very different. Most migrants are looking for ways to improve their lives, running from conflict, or seeking education so that they can get better jobs.
Students who choose to study immigration law need to understand not just the reasons why people migrate, but also the different laws that govern immigration in different countries.
The great news about immigration law is that it is a specialty that isn’t as saturated as criminal law, for example, or corporate law. Given the state of immigration, those who choose this area of law are guaranteed a lucrative career.
If you have been considering specializing in this kind of law, you may be asking the question, what can you do with a law degree? The answer is that there is plenty you can do. Institutions such as Cleveland State University provide top-notch education in accessible online courses. These courses are part-time, giving their students flexibility. Once you’re qualified, there are many interesting and enriching career options available to you, from representing migrants and refugees themselves to refugee centers and legislative law.
One of the ways to become an immigration lawyer is to enroll in a Juris Doctor degree. The course covers topics such as torts, state legislation and regulation, constitutional law and evidence. Students get externships where they work with a supervising attorney in a real-world legal environment. They also participate in clinic programs, which allow them to provide clients with advice under the supervision of an experienced attorney.
Top universities also give students a mentor to guide them as they start their careers, and those who are enrolled in online programs are often required to do a few weeks of on-campus residency to practice their skills with lawyers, judges and other qualified professionals.
If you have made up your mind to become an immigration lawyer, it is important not just to choose the right courses, but to also familiarize yourself with immigration law in different countries and what it means for your clients.
In the below sections, we will look at the law in some of the most common destinations for immigrants in the world, including the US, so that you have an idea of how our laws compare to those of other countries.
What you should know about immigration law in the US
The American Dream is alive and well. Many people, especially from South American countries, are determined to immigrate to the US so that they can get better work opportunities and education for their children. The country has done much to accommodate migrants, but there is a pushback from some quarters to restrict numbers.
As an immigration lawyer, you will be aware of all the debates surrounding the issue, but what is important is what the law says about various immigration issues.
US immigration laws are based on several important principles: the reunification of families, accepting immigrants with skills that are necessary within the economy, protecting political and other refugees, and promoting diversity within society.
The process is overseen by the federal government through the US Department of Homeland Security. This can be further broken down into Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which prosecutes and deports those who break immigration law; US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes applications for those who wish to become permanent residents; and Customs and Border Protection, which makes sure that those who come into the country are eligible.
The US offers two types of visas: immigrant visas and non-immigrant visas. Immigrant visas are issued to those who want to stay in the country in the long term for work, education or simply to establish themselves there. The number of immigrant visas issued every year is limited, and it isn’t easy to qualify for one. Non-immigrant visas are issued to tourists, students and business travelers and are much easier to get.
Those who qualify can apply for an E-2 visa, which is designed for those who want to invest in the US with assets, labor or other contributions. People who want to become entrepreneurs, for example, can apply for an E-2 visa, which helps them avoid the drawn-out process of trying to get residency using other types of visas. The US has a treaty with many other countries around the world to allow these sorts of immigrants to settle with ease.
An individual can qualify for permanent residency if they are offered a job by an employer. The employer acts as their guarantor, and based on this, the government issues a work visa. However, there are many different types of work visas available, so it is important that they carefully consider which one is best for their particular set of circumstances. The country only issues 140,000 work visas every year, and this includes spouses and children, so getting one may not be very easy.
There is a visa waiver program that only applies to tourists and cannot be used for purposes of work or education, and it only lasts 90 days.
Migrants can apply for temporary protected status, which is reserved for people from countries that have suffered a natural disaster, conflict or any other dangerous circumstance that makes it unsafe for its citizens.
The important thing to note about US immigration law is that although it is complex, lawyers who take the time to understand it can help their clients obtain residency. The process can take quite some time, but those who qualify get permanent residency.
What you should know about immigration law in the UK
Immigrants are welcomed into the UK if they intend to work, study or establish a life there. There are several categories of visas that applicants can apply for, and their lawyer is instrumental in helping them determine which one is best for them based on their particular circumstances.
All immigration issues are handled by the Home Office, and it makes the decisions on whether immigrants can stay or not. The Home Office is assisted by three other departments: UK Border Force, UK Visas and Immigration, and Immigration Enforcement. Visas for skilled workers are given on a points-based system, which means that they must have a job offer from an approved employer. To qualify, it is necessary to have a minimum of A-level skills, speak English, and receive a certain minimum salary from your employer – usually £26,200 per year or £10.75 per hour.
If someone doesn’t earn the stated minimum, they can make up the difference by highlighting certain characteristics of their occupation against the government-mandated minimum salary. If, for example, there is a shortage of skills in their occupation, the applicant can use that to score points in their application. PhD holders can also use their qualification to earn more points for their application. There is also a Global Talent Scheme that allows citizens from the EU, EAA and Switzerland to work in the UK if they are highly skilled in science and research.
International students from the EU, EAA and Switzerland can apply to study in the UK if they have been offered placement within a university, speak fluent English, and have enough money to support themselves as they study. Graduate visas are available to students who have already earned a degree in the UK and would like to study further. Citizens from the EU, EAA and Switzerland do not need a visa if they plan to stay in the UK for less than six months, but all others are required to apply for clearance in advance.
Just like the US, it can be complicated to determine whether someone is eligible for residency in the UK, and that is why it is a good idea to seek the services of an immigration lawyer. Not only do they help with filling out the relevant forms, but they can also help navigate the various offices that are involved, and many often help with the resettlement process.
What you should know about immigration law in Australia
Australia is famous for taking a tough stance on those who try to cross its borders illegally, but for those who use the right channels to apply for residency, the process isn’t so daunting. The immigration process is non-discriminatory for those who meet the requirements, but as with the US and the UK, it is a good idea to seek the services of an immigration lawyer because it is a complex area, and there is much that needs to be taken into account.
Australian immigration laws are based on the economic, democratic, humanitarian and social interests of the country. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a strong emphasis on skilled migration that is aimed at ensuring that the country meets current and future economic labor needs. Immigration issues are handled by Home Affairs, and visa applications are processed either by this department or overseas embassies and high commissions.
All applicants who fail to get a visa on their first application have to go through a merit-based review, which is much like the UK points-based system. However, not all visa applications can be reviewed this way, and it is the prerogative of Home Affairs to determine whether an application deserves a second look.
The Minister for Home Affairs can intervene if all other avenues have been exhausted, but the results are uncertain, and residency or visas are granted only for people facing special circumstances and who meet the criteria that are set at this level. The Australian government decides how many immigrants it will accept each year, and in most cases, it is fewer than 200,000.
Applicants are generally required to have an occupation that is within certain target areas that need skilled workers. The requirements include the amount of money they plan to invest in the country, whether they have been sponsored by an employer, how well they speak English, their age, character and health. However, one may meet all these criteria and still have their application rejected, and that is why it is important to work with a lawyer who knows how to navigate the system.
For those who meet the requirements, migrating to Australia isn’t difficult. That said, it is a good idea to use the services of an immigration lawyer so that the paperwork if filled in correctly and ends up in the right departments for assessment.
What you should know about immigration law in France
France is a common immigration destination, especially for those from former colonies. Its policy is unique because after the Second World War, it was the only European country that encouraged permanent immigration. However, as immigrant numbers have increased, it has had to tighten the rules, and getting residency isn’t as easy as it once was.
The country has a set limit of about 100,000 legal immigrants each year, many from the EU zone who enjoy free movement within Europe.
Asylum seekers and others who are seeking to move to France from beyond Europe must meet one or more of the following criteria: they should be skilled, they can be seeking education (thereby applying for a student visa), or they can get visas because they are seeking family reunification. If they can demonstrate that they fall into any of these categories, then there is a good chance that their application will be granted.
However, it must be noted that recent changes to the law mean that France is seeking to limit residency and citizenship, especially for people beyond the EU. Applicants who have the sort of skills that the country needs must be able to demonstrate how they will use them to benefit not just France but also their country of origin.
A lawyer who understands French immigration law can help to make sure that applicants fill out their forms correctly, apply for the proper category of visa, and follow up the application as it goes through different departments for processing.
How do the immigration laws for different countries compare?
There is one thing that all the different immigration laws have in common: whether someone is thinking of immigrating to the US, the UK, Australia, France or any other Western country, it can be an uphill battle for those who plan to do it themselves. They have to wade through lots of paperwork, make sure that they meet the different criteria for their country of choice, and fill in the forms correctly.
For the countries discussed above, an influx of refugees has forced them to tighten immigration laws so that they admit only those who have the necessary skills and those who can afford to invest in their economies.
Getting a student visa may be a little easier, but after they complete their studies, they must figure out the best way to stay on without falling foul of the law.
The other important thing to note about immigration law in most Western countries is that it is becoming increasingly complex. These countries are actively seeking ways to limit the number of immigrants each year, so it becomes harder and harder to become a permanent resident over time.
This isn’t to say that it isn’t worth trying. Those who employ the services of competent immigration lawyers stand a much better chance of qualifying than those who simply put in an application and hope that it gets approved.
An immigration lawyer understands immigration law in different countries and the different departments that process applications. They also know the obstacles that applicants are likely to face and can provide advice on how to avoid them.
Many immigration lawyers also offer to help their clients settle into their new countries, assisting them with setting up investments, getting jobs and homes, and placing children in schools. They can help them figure out how best to establish themselves in their new communities, providing advice along the way on the fastest way to assimilate.
If your heart is set on becoming an immigration lawyer, you can make a comfortable living helping those who are looking to set up new lives somewhere else. However, your success will depend upon how familiar you are with the different laws surrounding immigration for popular destinations across the world.
What about illegal immigrants? Can immigration lawyers be of any help? They can, but it is different from working with paying clients. Most illegal immigrants cannot afford lawyers – this is why they use illegal means to start with.
If you are keen on helping this group of people, then it is a good idea to seek employment with organizations that work with illegal immigrants to help them become permanent residents.
Immigration law is less popular than other specialties of law, but it is just as rewarding for lawyers who understand how they can help clients navigate the obstacles they encounter when they try to relocate. The more you know about immigration law in different countries, the more help you will be able to provide.