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How to get your first job in immigration law

How to get your first job in immigration law

I’m a partner at Fragomen and we work in every bit of immigration, other than asylum. That means helping skilled people, entrepreneurs, families and others move to or stay in the UK, including pro bono support for vulnerable people who can’t afford a lawyer. It also means keeping people and employers compliant — you don’t just get a visa and that’s it. There’s an awful lot of legal admin if you want to stay in the country or continue employing foreign workers.

For us that isn’t a particularly adversarial job — our people don’t spend their days in court — but it can be elsewhere in the sector. Our days are essentially spent solving puzzles, helping often stressed people move and helping other people — clients, assignees, colleagues, whoever — do their jobs better.

I like the job and my colleagues and peers do too. So just how do you get that first job in immigration law? 

My top tips (others may vary)

Writing or talking about this sort of thing makes me a little nervous because what we look for at Fragomen could be quite different to other firms. I hope these tips help those of you looking for your first job, but please don’t just rely on this article alone. Getting a graduate job isn’t easy so you’ll have to take time to learn about the places you’re applying to, research what you might be asked and practise your answers.       

Job hunting was all a mystery to me when I graduated, so this is what I wish I’d known 20 or so years ago:

1. Maybe you grew up around lawyers and professionals, maybe you didn’t. Either way, you’ve as much right as anyone to be in the sector.

2. You’ll need to know what sort of jobs to apply for. The dream is a training contract straight out of university but the competition for that is fierce. You can also look for legal assistant, paralegal or consultant roles. Indeed.com has a lot of those jobs but an internet search would also be worthwhile.  

3. The role and title for these sorts of entry-level jobs will differ, but they will generally involve helping a solicitor or immigration caseworker advise their clients. At first the job will involve preparing emails of advice, completing application forms, making sure that invoices go out on time and other admin. As you learn and progress, you will move on to researching and giving advice to clients.

4. Take time over the drafting of your CV and the content. A degree is great (but not necessarily essential) and summer jobs and work experience can help you differentiate yourself from other candidates. For new grads I also like to see what people have learned, as well as what they’ve done. 

5. Which brings us to: how can you get work experience? Honestly, you just need to ask. Not everyone will say yes but some will. Have a look for local firms or see who stands out in legal directories. Contact the firms that interest you and if they say no you should shrug and try another. Easier said than done, but it is a good thing to do.

6. You can also show you’re interested by staying on top of things. Mention on your CV that you read Free Movement, for instance. Following experts or interesting law firms on social media is also worthwhile — Colin Yeo is a the best starting point on Twitter, or myself and (the brilliant) Vanessa Ganguin post reasonably often on LinkedIn.  And of course, if you’ve spotted firms you would like to work with you should probably follow them.  

7. All of this is intended to help you learn and give you a richer CV, to help you get an interview. Again, you’ll want to Google the types of questions you might be asked at interviews. If I were to interview a paralegal now, I’d ask:

  • Why you want to work with us? The point here is to see how much you know about the firm and if you seem enthusiastic.
  • Why immigration? I’d be asking to see if you know what the job is or if this is a fishing expedition. 
  • When was your last mistake? I like this one because it checks for self-awareness. You’re going to make mistakes – everyone does – but do you recognise and learn from them?
  • Similarly, when was the last time you let a colleague down? Again, you are going to get things wrong sometimes so I’d expect most people to have done this, and it is so important for people to recognise when they have. That’s what makes for a nice workplace.
  • Then lots of functional questions about experience, working under pressure, meeting deadlines and being part of a team. Google will be better at producing that list than I am, but do think about your answers before you sit down in an interview. They all paint a picture about you and are worth practicing.

8. Lastly, be yourself. I’m not sure if this is realistic advice – it took me years to consistently feel comfortable in my own skin at work. But if you can’t be yourself, you won’t do yourself justice, and anyway pretending is just so tiring. And as part of that, don’t worry if interviews make you nervous – that is perfectly normal and any good interviewer will understand.

UK immigration school

You might also be wondering whether immigration law is for you. We can help with that at our Fragomen immigration school this autumn. It is for A-level and university students and you’ll hear from lawyers, MPs, civil servants, charity leads and others talk about their jobs.

It’s free to join and you can register here; the deadline is 28 September 2021. At the very least it should be an interesting addition to and talking point on your CV.

Here at Free Movement we’d like to publish more careers-type advice on how to break into immigration law. If you work in the field and can contribute an article about how to break into the sector, what recruiters look for, finding relevant work experience, etc — get in touch.

Ian is a Partner in Fragomen’s London office and has worked in immigration since 2002. He works with a large team of solicitors and other experts who can help employers move people to the UK and elsewhere in the world. Ian is on the Board of RAMP, an advisory board member of Justice Together and a trustee with Flex and Talent Beyond Boundaries.