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ICE Agent: Career Guide

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are responsible for preventing illegal immigration and preventing the unlawful traffic of goods into the US. With an increased emphasis on securing the nation’s borders, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement is expanding, as are other federal law enforcement agencies. ICE agents may find further employment opportunities with such federal government organizations as the Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Control, US Secret Service, the Federal Protective Service, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the US Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration.

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Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

ICE agents may either be involved with customs issues or immigration issues and may be assigned a variety of tasks in such areas as border patrol, human trafficking and child exploitation, cyber crimes, deportation, and intelligence gathering. Common tasks performed by ICE agents involve the deportation process, such as apprehending and deporting illegal immigrants or criminal immigrants. Agents may also be asked to inspect documents and other cargo at customs checkpoints.

ICE agents may work at border patrol to examine the credentials of individuals entering the United States, perform surveillance on persons of interest for either customs or immigration violations, or act as a liaison with other agencies. ICE agents frequently work with the FBI, Border Patrol, and other organizations involved in the nation’s security in order to prevent and block potential threats to US citizens.CJDS FACT: Immigration and Customs Enforcement employs more than 20,000 people in over 400 offices in the United States and 47 foreign countries.1

Steps for Becoming an ICE Agent

Entry-level ICE agents typically must possess a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. At least one year of graduate study is also required unless you received Superior Academic Achievement (SAA) in your undergraduate degree. Possession of a master’s degree can waive the required experience required for the GL-9 level. However, US veterans and those with significant experience in law enforcement or the military may have the education requirement waived.

ICE agents must be United States citizens who are at least 21 years of age and under 37 years of age. The maximum age limit may be waived for US veterans and applicants who have served in certain federal law enforcement positions. ICE agent candidates cannot have been convicted of any felony, nor can they have any conviction for a misdemeanor relating to domestic violence. Applicants who have such criminal records will automatically be denied. All ICE agents must hold a valid driver’s license and must carry a gun. To become an ICE agent, you should:

  1. Acquire the education and experience required for the position.
  2. Find an open position on the USA Jobs website.
  3. Undergo a background check.
  4. Take and pass a written exam.
  5. Take and pass a series of physical fitness tests.
  6. Be hired as an ICE agent.
  7. Receive on-the-job training once hired.

ICE Agent Training

All newly hired ICE agents must complete two training courses: a five-week Spanish language training program and the Basic Law Enforcement Training Program. These programs help candidates gain a basic understanding of Spanish and incorporate skills training in physical fitness, first aid, firearms, and law enforcement driving maneuvers. Agents must pass a total of seven written examinations and the Physical Abilities Assessment (PAA).

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Highly qualified candidates for ICE agent positions generally have law enforcement experience, are US military veterans or currently in the military, or have previously held a position of leadership in academia or in a professional setting. Candidates who are proficient in a second language also enjoy highly qualified status. However, candidates who do not possess one or several of those skills or experience may also still be eligible to work as an ICE agent.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Deportation Officer
  • Detention and Deportation Officer
  • HIS Agent
  • ICE Agent
  • ICE Criminal Investigator
  • Immigration Investigator

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ICE Agent Salary and Outlook

O*NET OnLine, a data service from the US Department of Labor, reports that criminal investigators and special agents earn an average annual salary of $79,970.2 Criminal investigators and special agent positions, similar to ICE agents, are projected to grow at an average 5-9% rate through 2026.2 This growth will account for a projected 7,500 openings through 2026.2 Like many federal agencies, ICE uses the GS federal pay scale to determine base annual salaries. Base salaries for ICE agents can start at GS 5, $29,350 a year, and go up to GS 13 or higher, $76,687, depending on an applicant’s qualifications and experience.3,4

Related Careers

  • Criminal Investigator
  • Intelligence Operations Specialist
  • Intelligence Research Specialist
  • Program Analyst
  • Technical Enforcement/Intelligence Officer

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long is the application process for ICE agents?

    Candidates for agent positions within Immigration and Customs Enforcement must go through a competitive interview process, including an extensive background investigation. Because security is so important for ICE agents, the hiring process can take four months or longer. The minimum time the hiring process will take is two months.

  • What kind of time commitment is required of ICE agents?

    ICE agents must be prepared to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Agents often work nights, weekends, and holidays, and log long hours away from home. In addition, agents will be assigned to a specific location but may spend considerable time away from their home post.

  • I am not qualified for employment as an ICE agent. What other jobs are available with ICE?

    ICE agents rely on the support of technical, administrative, and other professionals to do their jobs effectively and to keep the United States secure. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also employs attorneys, administrative officers, program analysts, and staff assistants.

Additional Resources

  • Working for ICE: ICE’s resource for becoming an ICE Agent, which includes hiring qualifications and information about the recruitment and application process.
  • USAJobs.gov: Find Current job openings in Immigration and Customs Enforcement and related government agencies requiring ICE agents.

1. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, About: https://www.ice.gov/about
2. O*NET OnLine, Criminal Investigators and Special Agents: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3021.03
3. USA Jobs: https://www.usajobs.gov/Search?a=HSBB
4. Salary Table 2019-GS: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/salary-tables/pdf/2019/GS.pdf

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