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Border Patrol Agent: Career Guide

Border patrol agents (BPAs) are law enforcement officers who enforce federal laws when people or goods travel into the United States. They work along the borders of Mexico and Canada as well as in the coastal waters of Puerto Rico and Florida to facilitate the flow of legitimate trade. Border patrol agents are also responsible for preventing illegal immigration, and protecting Americans from human and drug trafficking, terrorism, and agricultural pests. A border patrol agent works for US Customs and Border Protection. Standout agents may enjoy such career advancement opportunities as earning an assignment with the elite Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC).

Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Agents carry out their duties by using a variety of technological tools, such as infrared scopes, electronic sensors, low-light television systems, and aircraft. They are also involved in the legal field, as they offer input to the courts regarding immigration issues such as citizenship applications. Border patrol agents often deal with dangerous situations, such as coming into contact with armed criminals. While BPAs are similar to ‚Äécustoms and border protection officers (CBP officers or CBPOs), and some job duties may overlap, their primary job duties are distinct. Border patrol agents typically patrol international land borders and points of entry to apprehend undocumented aliens and smugglers of aliens, while CBP officers focus on facilitating the flow of legitimate trade and travel, determining the admissibility of individuals into the US, and preventing the illegal entry of individuals and prohibited goods.

Steps for Becoming a Border Patrol Agent

First prospective BPAs must meet the following qualifications:

  • Be younger than 40 years of age at the time of hire
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Hold US citizenship
  • Be registered to carry a firearm
  • Possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice of Homeland Security OR have equivalent work experience (education and experience determine pay level as either GL-5 or GL-7)

The process for becoming a border patrol agent will be similar to the steps below.

  1. Acquire the necessary education and/or experience described above.
  2. Apply for an open position on the USAJOBS website.
  3. Take and pass the CBP Border Patrol Entrance Exam at a location of your choice.* You can find study guides here.
  4. Take and pass a foreign language competency exam.
  5. Ensure your resume has been properly submitted.
  6. Submit to a background investigation.
  7. Take and pass a medical screening.
  8. Take and pass a series of fitness tests.
  9. Complete a structured interview with a board of BPAs, who will evaluate your decision-making skills, interpersonal skills, and maturity level, among other qualifications.
  10. Take and pass a polygraph exam.
  11. Take and pass a drug test.
  12. Be hired as a border patrol agent.
  13. Receive on-the-job training once hired.

*GL-9 level applicants will take an entrance exam waiver in lieu of the entrance exam.

Border Patrol Agent Job Training

Every newly hired border patrol agent must successfully complete 58 days of training at the Border Control Academy in Artesia, New Mexico. This residential training program covers law (including nationality law and immigration law), firearms use, and physical training. New agents must maintain a minimum 70 percent average to pass the program. Additionally, candidates must complete another 40 days of Spanish language training, if needed.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Successful candidates should be physically and mentally strong, financially responsible, and possess strong problem solving and interpersonal skills. BPAs must be willing to work overtime in arduous conditions and change temporary and permanent duty stations when required. Border patrol agents are required to be proficient in the use of English and Spanish. Previous federal law enforcement and/or military experience may be beneficial.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Border Guard
  • Border Patrol Guard
  • Border Patrol Officer
  • Patrol Agent

Border Patrol Agent Salary and Job Outlook

Border patrol agents’ salary is based on the General Schedule pay scale. You can view the current General Schedule pay scale at the US Office of Personnel Management website. BPA job salaries on the USAJOBS website range from between $40,000 to $83,000 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide salary data for border patrol agents. The United States has a great need for border patrol agents, as it is continually increasing security and inspection of people and goods that enter its borders. There are approximately 18,000 Border Patrol Agents and staff represented by the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) labor union.1

Related Careers

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Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What does the CPB exam assess?

Answer: The CBP Border Patrol entrance examination measures logical reasoning, the ability to learn basic language skills, and applicants’ physical fitness.

Question: What traits might disqualify a prospective border patrol agent?

Answer: US Customs and Border Protection may disqualify those candidates who have been arrested, use alcohol excessively, have been dismissed from previous employment, and have financial problems. Also, candidates with certain medical conditions may be disqualified.

Question: Is basic training a paid opportunity?

Answer: Yes. Successful candidates receive paid training at the Border Patrol Agent Academy in Artesia, New Mexico.

Question: What type of schedule does a border patrol agent typically work?

Answer: Aspiring agents should be prepared to work long hours, including overtime, often under difficult conditions.

Additional Resources

1. National Border Patrol Council: http://www.bpunion.org/
2. US Customs and Border Patrol: https://www.cbp.gov/careers/frontline-careers/bpa
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm#tab-2