Entering a foreign country typically requires clearance through customs, the presentation of a valid passport, and sometimes questioning related to the purpose of one’s trip and the length of time one plans to remain in a given country. The people conducting passport checks and asking questions are usually immigration agents. Immigration agents, called immigration officers in some countries, are government officials who are tasked with enforcing and upholding national immigration law. The scope of work that an immigration agent does is broad. In addition to border checks, immigration agents can work as international immigration liaisons, as law enforcement and immigration control officers, and as investigative detectives, among other things.
National governments employ immigration agents to put immigration laws and policies into action. An immigration agent’s role is perhaps most visible at border checkpoints. At borders, immigration agents check the validity of travel documents, and detain and remove those who try to enter improperly. It is usually an immigration agent who searches for drugs and other contraband in luggage at international airports, and who conducts random baggage searches to ensure that no illegal items are being brought into a country. In a sense, immigration agents are border police officers whose goal is to protect the inside from undocumented, unauthorized, or otherwise unwanted intrusions.
An immigration agent may also work in the field. Agents can be assigned to search for and arrest immigrants alleged to be in the country illegally, or they can be tasked with investigating suspected immigration violations or abuses. Sometimes immigration agents are posted abroad, usually to coordinate efforts with foreign immigration services in matters of international concern.
The requirements to become an immigration agent vary by country, and even then by specific task or job requirement. In Australia, for instance, the only education that is required to become an entry-level immigration officer is a high school diploma. The United States requires a bachelor’s degree, while Canada typically wants its immigration officers to have at least a master’s degree. More education typically leads to more opportunities.
In all countries, an applicant must be a citizen in order to be considered. The immigration agent application process typically requires proof of citizenship, as well as both a written test and a physical exam. On the test, applicants will be asked to demonstrate their written and verbal abilities, and to show at least foundational knowledge of national laws. The physical exam is designed to ensure that the applicant is healthy enough and strong enough to perform the varied duties that may be required.
Once accepted to become an immigration agent, one usually enters a period of immigration training and immigration classes before being placed in a full-time position. Agents can sometimes express their preference for the sort of work they would like to do, but more often than not, when they are starting out, they will go where their country needs them. As with most fields, seniority often buys more say in career trajectory. Immigration enforcement is a field that is growing globally, and the possibilities for advancement are significant.