What Does an ICE Agent Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

border patrol officer with an ICE special agent
Scott Olson / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (ICE) agents work to prevent illegal immigration into the U.S. and also protect the nation from the trafficking of unlawful goods from other countries.

ICE agents work for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The ICE entity has four branches with over 20,000 law enforcement and support personnel.

A career as an ICE agent can be both personally and financially rewarding. Agents earn competitive salaries and work to keep the borders of the United States safe and secure for citizens and visitors alike.

In 2019, an increased emphasis on border security and control has led to higher demand for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, as well as the requirement for other federal law enforcement agencies to expand and hire more personnel.

ICE agents may be asked to investigate a number of crimes associated with customs and immigration, including:

  • Money laundering
  • Human trafficking
  • Immigration fraud
  • Child exploitation
  • Cybercrime
  • Drug trafficking
  • Gang activity
  • Weapons smuggling and trafficking

ICE Agent Duties & Responsibilities

ICE agents work for the federal government in one of nearly 400 field offices around the world. Due to the nature of the job, they may work in a variety of conditions and spend extended periods of time on assignment and outside of their field offices.

ICE agents may be asked to perform a fairly wide variety of duties and tasks, including the following:

  • Conduct all levels of investigations, including civil, administrative and criminal
  • Perform a significant amount of undercover work
  • infiltrate criminal organizations or businesses to uncover illicit activity
  • Work closely with other federal agencies, such as the FBI, as well as state and local departments
  • Participate in the deportation process, such as apprehending and deporting illegal immigrants or criminal immigrants
  • Inspect documents and other cargo at customs checkpoints
  • 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

ICE Agent Salary

An ICE agent's salary varies based on geographic area, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies ICE agents under the category of police and detectives, with an annual salary range as follows:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

In addition to their base salary, ICE agents may also earn added pay based on the location of their field office.

Education, Training & Certification

To become an ICE agent, you must be a United States citizen, possess a valid driver license, and not have been convicted of any felony or crime of domestic violence, in addition to meeting other requirements as follows:

  • Application process: ICE agent applicants must undergo a rigorous application process that includes a thorough background investigation, medical assessment, and a personal andstructured interview.
  • Testing: Candidates must undergo a battery of tests that measure their experience, reasoning skills and writing ability.
  • Education: Preference is given to those who hold at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited 4-year institution.
  • Military and other experience: The agency also seeks candidates with prior military service or law enforcement experience and those with the ability to speak one or more languages besides English. In addition, prior experience in a leadership or management position is considered a plus, whether in a civilian, military or law enforcement capacity.
  • Training: New ICE agents undergo four to six months of training at the start of their employment, and participate in ongoing education throughout their career.

ICE Agent Skills & Competencies

ICE agents must have additional capabilities and "soft skills" in addition to meeting the educational and training requirements for the job, such as the following:

  • Organization: They must have strong organizational andanalytical skills
  • Communication skills: ICE agents must be able to clearly articulate thoughts, facts, and ideas when speaking to people and gathering facts about a crime; they must also write coherently to express details about a given incident.
  • Empathy: ICE agents need to understand the perspectives of a wide variety of people and have a willingness to help the public.
  • Good judgment: ICE agents must determine the best way to resolve a wide variety of problems quickly and under pressure.
  • Leadership skills: ICE agents must be comfortable with the public looking to them for assistance in dangerous or emergency situations.
  • Perceptiveness: ICE agents need to anticipate a person’s reactions and understand why they act in certain ways.
  • Physical stamina: ICE agents must be in top shape physically to pass the required tests for the job, and to keep up with daily rigors of the work.
  • Physical strength: ICE agents must be strong enough to physically apprehend offenders as needed.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for ICE agents (included as a subset of police and detectives) over the next decade relative to other occupations and industries is estimated to grow at the same projected rate of 7% for all occupations combined.

However, ICE agents are expected to be in higher demand for several years to come due to the increased demand for border protection and monitoring, and continuing threats from foreign terrorists, criminal enterprise, and individuals.

Work Environment

As an ICE agent, you may work outdoors a good deal of the time, possibly in rough terrain under different weather conditions. You must also be willing to live and work anywhere in the United States. The agency has offices in very remote locations that may cause potential hardships for the unprepared. You must also be willing to enforce all laws of the United States, regardless of your personal feelings about subjects such as immigration.

Work Schedule

Life as an ICE agent can be difficult and stressful and there may be a great deal of travel involved. ICE agents also earn Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP), which is applied as compensation for the fact that agents will be expected to work an average of 50 hours per week over the course of a year. ICE agents may also be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How to Get the Job


Visit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website to learn about the application process, how your background fits in and what types of experience to highlight on your resume.


Visit the ICE website for information and directions on how to apply. The agency holds open application periods at various times throughout the year.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in an ICE agent career also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018