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How to Become an Immigration Court Interpreter

Updated: Feb 19, 2023

Do you want to know how to become an immigration court interpreter? Read along to find out the ten steps you need to follow.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions about the process, need resume tips, or want to find out more.

Don't feel like reading? Watch the video!

I've been interpreting in immigration settings officially since 2019. However, I started dabbing into this field before then by interpreting in USCIS interviews and attorney-client meetings and translating supporting documents for immigration proceedings.

I made the video above on my one-year anniversary of interpreting for immigration courts. If you are here, it's probably because you are either interested in learning more about the topic or have already started the process to begin interpreting in this field, so please, get comfy and read along.

The immigration field has many branches that work independently from each other, and it's a bit of a maze that we need to figure out.

From an interpreter's perspective, when we think of the immigration field, there are many areas where we can work, including but not limited to:

  • USCIS interviews, where an immigration officer interviews those applying for certain immigration status.

  • Immigration attorneys and legal aid organizations, where we interpret for immigration attorneys or representatives and their clients for intake interviews, statements, forms preparations, etc.

  • Credible fear interviews, where we interpret for an asylum officer and individuals seeking asylum.

  • Immigration courts, where we interpret at hearings presided by an immigration judge when individuals are placed in removal proceedings.

There is no specific certification to interpret in the immigration field. Many clients prefer to work with court-certified interpreters, but not all, and it's not a requirement. To work in immigration courts through the private company that provides most of their interpretation services, there's a vetting process that I will explain below.

Immigration courts fall under the Executive Office For Immigration Review (EOIR), which is part of the Department of Justice.

They have been outsourcing interpretation services through private companies that have to bid for this contract, and those companies subcontract interpreters.

Currently, the federal contractor that handles interpretation services for the EOIR is SOS International (SOSi).

In the video above, I detail my experience with SOSI's recruiting process. Below are the ten steps that you need to follow to become an immigration court interpreter:

1. Apply for current openings on popular career sites such as Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and of course, on SOSi's website.

2. Once you apply, you'll be contacted by a recruiter for a phone interview. During the interview, they will review your resume, discuss your experience, and explain the onboarding process.

3. The next step is to take an initial language assessment. You'll get instructions by email on how to schedule it. Don't worry. This test is mainly to see how well you speak English and your foreign language. Here are some details about the test:

  • Takes less than 30 minutes.

  • You'll need a computer and a webcam. A proctor will be observing you.

  • The passing score is 3.5/5.

  • There are three simultaneous interpretation sections: two with general vocabulary and one with some legal terminology. The speed is 120 - 135 words per minute (wpm)

  • There is one consecutive interpretation section with ten utterances. The segments are relatively short (1-25 words).

4. Once you pass the initial screening, it's time to start the training. You have two weeks to complete it, so make sure you pick a date to start the training when you know you'll be available to complete it.

Currently, the training is self-paced and provided by the Southern California school of interpretation. You'll get your credentials to access the training by email. You'll also get a handbook with glossaries and scripts in PDF format, which I strongly suggest you print.

The training course consists of six lectures where the instructor explains the type of hearings you will be interpreting, how to localize the interpretation of some terms based on the respondent's country of origin, and of course, interpreting techniques for simultaneous and consecutive interpretation and sight translation.

5. After completing the training course, you must pass a final exam. This final exam is completely based on the practices covered during the course, so make sure you master them as best as you can.

6. Once you pass the final exam, you'll get a contract to interpret in court conditionally. I say conditionally because there are still a few steps that you'll need to complete before you can start taking assignments regularly.

7. Before you get your first case, you'll be contacted by a coordinator to make arrangements for you to observe interpreted hearings in immigration court and meet a senior interpreter. This senior interpreter will explain the sign-in/sign-out process; they'll give you tips about parking, show you how to operate the audio equipment, and other useful information.

8. You'll get your first case after completing your observation hours. For that first case, your performance will be thoroughly evaluated. The quality team needs to hear you interpret for at least one hour, so if your first case does not last that long, you'll get called for another case until they can get a recording long enough to evaluate you.

9. After your first case, you'll get an email confirming whether or not you passed, and sometime after that, you'll get a detailed report about your performance, recommendations for you to work on, and a score.

10. Once you pass that final evaluation, you'll be included in the roster and can start accepting cases regularly.

Out of all courts of law in the United States, immigration courts are the ones with the greatest need for interpreters because the vast majority of individuals in removal proceedings have limited English proficiency.

Interpreting in immigration court can be a very rewarding experience s,o if you are considering venturing into the field, feel free to reach out! I'll be more than happy to answer your questions!

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