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Border Patrol Agent Job Description, Career as a Border Patrol Agent, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training College and training

Salary Average—$55,000 per year

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Border patrol agents, who are federal law enforcement officers, make sure that laws are observed when goods or people enter the United States. They work at ports of entry and all along the border to prevent smuggling and the entrance of illegal aliens.

One of their chief duties is covert surveillance along the border, using electronic sensors, infrared scopes, low-light television systems, and aircraft. They also conduct traffic and transportation checks at ports of entry; arrest aliens who live in this country illegally; and make suggestions to the courts about immigration matters, including applications for citizenship.

Education and Training Requirements

Applicants, who must be younger than thirty-seven years of age, need either college degrees or enough education and experience to demonstrate they can make decisions and handle stressful situations. They also must pass written examinations that assess their logical reasoning and ability to speak Spanish (or their ability to learn Spanish). After passing the examinations, applicants undergo in-depth interviews that evaluate their interpersonal skills, judgment, and problem-solving abilities. Prospective agents must undergo drug tests, medical screenings, and comprehensive background checks. Applicants must also have valid driver's licenses.

Border patrol agents work at border crossings to check the identification papers of people entering the United States from a foreign country. (© FRED GREAVES/Reuters/Corbis.)

Those who pass the examinations are required to take classes at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico. During the nineteen-week training program, agents-in-training study immigration and nationality law, criminal law and statutory authority, behavioral science, Spanish, Border Patrol operations, firearm safety, and motor-vehicle operation.

Getting the Job

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Web site lists job opportunities and the application requirements for each position.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

New agents may be promoted after a probationary period lasting about six months. They may be promoted again at the end of their third year of service. Some agents advance to supervisory positions or transfer to other jobs in immigration and naturalization.

Each year between one hundred and two hundred job openings occur, depending largely on government funding for the patrol. Because the number of people entering the country illegally is increasing, opportunities for border patrol agents many increase as well.

Working Conditions

Border patrol agents often work outdoors along international borders. They may be sent on temporary assignments on short notice and be permanently reassigned to any duty location. Like all law-enforcement personnel, agents must be responsible and able to act quickly. They are required to be proficient in the use of and carry firearms. Agents work forty hours a week, usually in rotating shifts, plus overtime. Agents are subject to random drug testing.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings depend on years of service. In 2004 the average wage for experienced agents was $55,000 per year. All agents received Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime based on the number of unscheduled hours of overtime worked each week. Almost all employees received the maximum amount, about twenty-five percent of base pay.

Where to Go for More Information

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service
425 I St. NW
Washington, DC 20536
(202) 514-2000

U.S. Customs and Border Protection
1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20229
(202) 354-1000

Agents receive paid vacations; health, long-term care, and life insurance; pensions; and other benefits given to federal employees.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service