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Criminal Investigator

Criminal Investigator

Criminal Investigator

HSI special agents protect our country, cities, and communities from criminal and terrorist threats and contribute to the national security and public safety of the united states.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 Special Agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.


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.


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Application Process

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 résumé with the original application.

Interested individuals may also contact a Special Agent recruiter for additional information related to the position. Special Agent recruiters are located at each Special Agent in Charge (SAC) office. Contact information for each SAC office is posted on ICE’s website here.


If an applicant has never worked for the federal government, she/he is not ICTAP/CTAP eligible. Information about ICTAP and CTAP eligibility is found on the OPM’s Career Transition Resources website. 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.

Occupational Questionnaire

Some vacancy announcements may require an applicant to also complete an occupational questionnaire. Her/his 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. If an applicant meets the minimum score requirements, she/he will continue in the hiring process to the writing assessment.

Special Agent Test Battery

Applicants will need to complete a series of assessments to continue in the hiring process.

Applicants will first need to complete a writing assessment and Candidate Experience Record. The writing assessment evaluates an applicant’s overall writing ability, organization, how they present ideas, grammar, punctuation, spelling and vocabulary. The Candidate Experience Record evaluates the academic and professional experiences relevant to Special Agents. These assessments can be completed from any computer with an internet connection (i.e., these assessments are unproctored and do not need to be completed in a testing center).

Applicants who meet the minimum score requirements on the writing assessment and Candidate Experience Record will continue in the process to the proctored portion of the Special Agent Test Battery. The test battery measures applicants’ logical reasoning, arithmetic reasoning, and writing skills. These tests are administered at more than 500 test centers located throughout the United States (note: international test centers are not available). Applicants must schedule a time to take the Test Battery during the testing window.

Applicants who meet the minimum score requirements for the Special Agent Test Battery their résumé and supporting documentation reviewed to ensure they meet the basic qualification requirements. Qualified applicants may then be scheduled for a structured interview.

Special Agent Test Battery Preparation Manual

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.

Preparation Manual for the ICE Special Agent Test Battery (PDF | 1.2 MB)

Structured Interview

Three senior-level criminal investigators administer 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. Candidates must receive a "pass" in all areas to progress in the hiring process. The structured interview is omitted for announcements posted under Direct Hire Authority.

Personal Interview

Two senior-level HSI management officials conduct the personal interview. The personal interview assesses candidates' individual background and employment history.

  • Applicants are presented with standardized information: HSI mission, HSI criminal investigator duties, academy and training requirements, and job locations/life changes.
  • Applicants are asked questions pertaining to essential functions of the HSI criminal investigator position (i.e., Are you willing to work at any location in the country, including remote areas along the United States border? Are you willing to be available/on-call for duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including weekends and holidays, work long hours and spend extended periods away from your assigned duty?).

Physical Fitness Test

Applicants will have to pass the Pre-Employment Physical Fitness Test (PFT-P) administered by a local HSI office. 

  • The PFT-P consists of four tests administered in the following sequence:
    • 32 sit-ups in 1 minute or less
    • 220-yard sprint in 47.73 seconds or less
    • 22 push-ups in 1 minute or less
    • 1.5 miles run in 14 minutes 25 seconds or less
  • The applicant must pass all 4 fitness tests in sequence as listed above with proper form and no more than a 5-minute rest between tests and in the prescribed amount of time.

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 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.

FAQ: What should I provide during the medical examination?

Drug Testing

Criminal investigator 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.

Background/Security Investigation

The criminal investigator position is categorized as a "sensitive" position in law enforcement. Therefore, tentatively selected applicants must undergo, and successfully complete, a background investigation as a condition of employment for this position. This investigation will examine your activities during at least the last 10 years. Keep in mind that because DHS has a law enforcement mission; it sets very high standards for its employees. 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.

Polygraph Examination

Applicants may be required to successfully pass a polygraph examination.

Basic Eligibility

  • U.S. Citizenship: Candidates must be United States citizens and present proof of citizenship, if selected.
  • U.S. Residency: Candidates must have, for three of the last five years immediately prior to applying for the position, (1) resided in the United States; or (2) worked for the United States Government as an employee overseas in a federal or military capacity; or (3) been a dependent of a U.S. federal or military employee serving overseas.
  • Age: Applicants must be at least 21 years of age. The day immediately preceding an individual's 37th birthday will be the last day to be referred for selection consideration. However, the age restriction may not apply if you are a preference-eligible veteran or if you are currently serving or have previously served in a federal civilian law enforcement position covered by 5 U.S.C. Section 8336(c) or 5 U.S.C. Section 8412(d).
  • Motor Vehicle Operation: Applicants must possess a valid state-issued automobile driver's license.
  • Firearm: Criminal investigators are required to carry a firearm while performing duties of this position and maintain firearm proficiency.
  • Convictions: Candidates cannot have any felony convictions. According to the Lautenberg Amendment, 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(9), any person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence cannot lawfully possess a firearm or ammunition.  
  • Mandatory Completion of Basic Training: Once officially selected, applicants are required to attend 22 weeks of paid training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Brunswick, Georgia.
  • Fitness Program: During basic training, you will be required to undergo regular physical examinations and you may, in the future, be required to maintain a level of physical fitness in accordance with the standards and policies of the agency.
  • Mobility: Mobility is a major factor in this occupation. Applicants must be willing to accept employment at any location offered. Assignment at the first duty station will be at least three years; however, completion of the three years does not imply that a transfer is guaranteed. Additionally, criminal investigators may be reassigned at any time in their career to new locations based on the needs of the service.
  • Travel: Positions may require periodic and sometimes extended travel in addition to the initial basic and other mandatory training.
  • Physical and Environmental Conditions: Moderate to arduous physical exertion involving walking and standing, use of firearms and exposure to inclement weather. The work requires physical strength and stamina, potentially dangerous and stressful situations, as well as exposure to physical attack, including the use of lethal weapons.
  • Selective Service Registration: For males born after December 31, 1959, selective service registration is required.


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 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.

  • 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 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 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 Insurance

Generous 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.

Updated: 04/07/2021