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ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is a critical investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). HSI protects the United States against terrorist and other criminal organizations that threaten our safety and national security. HSI also targets transnational criminal enterprises who seek to exploit America's legitimate trade, travel, and financial systems. HSI operates out of 70 offices in more than 45 foreign countries.


HSI criminal investigators, also referred to as special agents, conduct criminal and civil investigations involving national security threats, terrorism, drug smuggling, child exploitation, human trafficking, illegal arms export, financial crimes, identity fraud, benefit fraud, commercial fraud and more.

HSI special agents may have the opportunity to work regularly with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies including the FBI, DEA and U.S. Marshals Service as well as state police and county sheriff’s departments. In addition, special agents may have the opportunity to participate on special task forces or fugitive operations teams.

Apply Online

Applications for criminal investigator positions will be accepted during an open vacancy announcement. Vacancy announcements will be posted online through the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) USAJOBS website. During an open announcement period, the applicant will be required to submit a resume with the original application. If the applicant is a preference-eligible veteran, additional opportunities may be available. Preference-eligible applicants may find additional information at OPM's website. Click below to learn more about basic eligibility.

Basic Eligibility

  • U.S. citizenship
  • Have a valid driver's license.
  • Be eligible to carry a firearm.
  • Referred for selection prior to your 37th birthday (waiver for preference-eligible veterans or those who have previously served in a federal civilian law enforcement position).
  • Be willing to travel; you will be required to travel frequently.
  • For males born after 12/31/1959, Selective Service registration is required.

Exam and Test Preparation

This manual will help you prepare for the special agent test battery. It will help familiarize you with the logical reasoning test, the arithmetic reasoning test and the writing skills test. You will also have the opportunity to review some sample questions. Explanations for correct answers are provided in the manual. (PDF | 1.2 MB)

Occupational Questionnaire

If an applicant meets the minimum qualifications requirements, his/her experience, education, and training will be rated using an online assessment (occupational questionnaire). Based on the responses, an applicant will receive a score between 70 and 100. For those applicants who meet the minimum score requirements, their résumé and supporting documentation will be reviewed to ensure they meet the basic qualification requirements. If an applicant meets the minimum qualifications and minimum score requirements, his/her name will be referred to take the special agent test battery and writing sample assessment.

Special Agent Test Battery and Writing Sample Assessment

Applicants who meet the minimum score requirements will be invited to schedule and complete a computerized competency-based assessment battery, also known as the special agent test battery, which is administered online at more than 500 test centers. Applicants can schedule a time to take the test battery over a two-week period. The test measures applicants’ reasoning and writing skills, as well as his/her experience. A study guide is available on ICE.gov.

In addition, applicants undergo a writing sample assessment, where he/she provides a narrative report describing the details of a photograph. This assessment evaluates an applicant’s overall writing ability, organization, how they present ideas, grammar, punctuation, spelling and vocabulary.

Applicants who pass both the special agent test battery and the writing sample assessment and meet the minimum score requirements will be scheduled for a structured interview.


Certain veterans may receive an additional five or 10 points added to their numerical score on the occupational questionnaire (refer to the occupational questionnaire section below for scoring details). To determine whether you qualify for veterans' preference, please see: http://www.fedshirevets.gov/job/vetpref/index.aspx.


If an applicant has never worked for the federal government, he/she is not ICTAP/CTAP eligible. Information about ICTAP or CTAP eligibility is found on the OPM's Career Transition Resources website at http://www.opm.gov/ctap/index.asp. To be considered well qualified under ICTAP/CTAP an applicant must earn a score of 85 or above on the rating criteria developed for this position.

Structured Interview

Three senior-level criminal investigators administer the structured interview. The interview consists of situational questions that do not require technical knowledge. The structured interview assesses an applicant’s judgment and decision-making skills, emotional maturity, cooperativeness, sensitivity to the needs of others and conscientiousness. These qualities are essential to success as a criminal investigator. The structured interview is a pass/fail interview. Candidates must receive a "pass" in all areas to progress in the hiring process.

Personal Interview

Two senior-level HSI management officials conduct the personal interview. The personal interview assesses candidates' individual background and employment history. It ensures that every candidate being interviewed is presented with standardized information about the HSI criminal investigator position.

The personal interview covers the following topics:

  • HSI mission,
  • HSI criminal investigator duties,
  • academy and training requirements, and
  • job locations/life changes.

In addition, every candidate must answer a series of essential functions questions. Candidates must be willing to carry out certain actions to be considered for the HSI criminal investigator position.

Drug Testing

ICE is a drug-free workplace. All ICE applicants must satisfactorily complete a drug test as a mandatory condition of employment with ICE. ICE will schedule, provide and pay for the drug test. Once onboard, employees are subject to random drug testing throughout their careers.

Physical and Environmental Conditions

Applicants for deportation officer and special agent positions with ERO and HSI must take and pass a three-part fitness test consisting of the following components: kneel/stand test, push-ups and a five-minute cardiovascular endurance step test.

Medical Requirements

Appointment will be contingent upon a candidate passing a pre-employment medical examination to ascertain possession of the physical, emotional, and mental requirements for the position. Any chronic disease or condition affecting the respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, digestive, nervous, endocrine or genitourinary systems that would impair full performance of the job duties is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and may disqualify the individual. Since the duties of these positions are demanding and involve the responsibility for the safety of others under trying conditions, applicants must possess emotional and mental stability. Any condition that hinders full, efficient performance of the duties of these positions or would cause the individual to be a hazard to himself/herself or to others can result in disqualification. Common reasons for medical disqualification include the inability to meet the hearing and vision medical standards.

Background/Security Investigation

All positions require security vetting. Security vetting takes an average of three months to complete, but the process can vary from two weeks to one year, depending on both the applicant's history and the level of security vetting required for the position.

ICE offers competitive salaries and an attractive benefits package including health, dental, vision, life, long-term care insurance, retirement plan, Thrift Savings Plan (similar to a 401(k)), flexible spending account, Employee Assistance Program, personal leave days and paid federal holidays. Other benefits may include: flexible work schedules, telework, tuition reimbursement, transportation subsidies, uniform allowance, health and wellness programs and access to fitness centers. DHS is committed to employee development and offers a variety of training and developmental opportunities.

Competitive PayCompetitive Pay

Sample pay check break down pie chart. 68% salary, 25% overtime, 5% locality, 2% otherAgents are competitively rewarded for their time on the job. In addition to base pay, agents may be eligible for locality pay, overtime pay and more.

  • Salary: You receive a salary that corresponds to your grade level. This salary is the number quoted on USAJOBS.
  • Overtime Pay: Earn up to 125% of your salary and locality pay for time worked outside the 40 hour work week.
  • Locality Pay: You may receive pay on top of your salary, depending on where you work. Navigate the different locality pay tables.

Paid Time OffPaid Time Off

  • Between 13 and 26 days of annual leave accrued per year (variation based on years of federal service)
  • 10 federal holidays per year
  • 15 days of military reserve leave
  • 13 days of sick leave accrued per year


Overtime pay for federal government employees is determined by special rules and regulations. Some federal employees who are not entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) still may be entitled to overtime pay under Title 5. Some forms of government pay, such as law enforcement availability pay (LEAP), are available under Title 5 but not the FLSA.

Availability pay: Law enforcement availability pay, or LEAP is a type of premium pay that is paid to federal law enforcement officers (LEOs) who are criminal investigators. Their work requires criminal investigators to be available to work substantial amounts of unscheduled duty. Availability pay applies to unscheduled duty hours as well as the first two hours of regularly scheduled overtime on any day containing part of the criminal investigator’s basic 40-hour workweek. The rate is fixed at 125% of the employee’s rate of basic pay, subject to aggregate premium pay limitations. Other hours of overtime continue to be paid under the provisions of Title 5/FEPA, but LEAP employees are exempt from the FLSA.

Career ProgressionCareer Progression

HSI positions have promotion potential to the GS-13 level. A career ladder promotion is contingent upon satisfactory performance and the satisfactory completion of all required training. Such promotions are not automatic. Positions have additional opportunities at the GS-14, GS-15 and Senior Executive Service levels; however, promotions to these levels are addressed through a competitive hiring process.

You qualify at the GL-7 level if you possess one (1) year of specialized experience performing duties such as:

  • training in criminal or civil investigative principles and techniques;
  • applying laws and rules associated with criminal or civil procedures, searches, seizures, arrests and rules of evidence; and (or),
  • preparing investigative reports using clear and proper written language.

You qualify at the GL-9 level if you possess one (1) year of specialized experience performing duties such as:

  • observing and participating in various phases of investigations;
  • researching and analyzing records, data and other material related to investigative cases;
  • interviewing individuals to verify facts and obtain specific information;
  • obtaining signed statements, affidavits and documentary evidence to be included in reports or case records;
  • interviewing witnesses and others, both informally and formally in recorded settings; and (or),
  • searching and analyzing various forms of records.

Qualification requirements must be met by the closing date of the announcement.

Health InsuranceHealth Insurance

Agents are eligible to choose from a variety of premium federal health insurance programs, including:

Note that you may be eligible to keep your health insurance in retirement and pay the same subsidized premium as you did as an employee. Learn more about the continued health insurance benefits for you and your family in retirement.

Life InsuranceLife Insurance

Generous RetirementGenerous Retirement

Employees who retire from ICE can count on the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) to enjoy life after working. FERS includes the following three streams of income:

  1. Thrift Savings Plan: Similar to a 401(k) plan, the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a defined contribution plan designed to give federal employees the same retirement savings related benefits that workers in the private sector enjoy with 401(k) plans. Contributions to the plan are automatically deducted from each paycheck, the amount which is chosen by employees, and is transferable if you change employers. An additional benefit to the TSP is employer matching contributions; up to 5% of your base salary. Learn more >>
  2. FERS Basic Annuity under special provisions: Agents that serve in federal government with at least 20 years of law enforcement service are eligible for the generous FERS basic annuity. This guaranteed lifetime pension, paid to retirees is a percentage of your highest average basic pay you earned during any 3 consecutive years of service. Learn more >>
  3. Social Security: You receive social security retirement payments, the benefits of which are transferable when you change employers. Learn more >>

Law Enforcement 6(c) Retirement Coverage: Being in a frontline position at ICE qualifies you for 6(c) retirement coverage. What does that mean? 6(c) retirement coverage means you can retire at any age after 25 years of service or at age 50 with at least 20 years of service. 6(c) eligibility is a factor for determining your FERS basic annuity.