FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Applying for the Program
MODULE COST = $1,330
FULL PROGRAM = $3,990
The cost of books and course materials are estimated to be an additional $250.
A $665* deposit (half the cost of a Module) is required to hold your seat in the course.
Unfortunately, federal student loans and/or scholarships are not available to cover the cost of tuition.
Students may seek out private loans from alternative lenders. CPS students enrolling in VIISTA may participate in a payment plan. Please reach out to our enrollment team for additional information on payment plans.
Admissions is rolling. Each Module is taught three times a year, starting in August, January and May.
When you enroll in VIISTA you will be a Villanova student in the College of Professional Studies.
Yes. VIISTA is an online program. You can enroll from any state in the country. Read the Notices for Distance Education Students.
Completing the Program
On average, students will complete one unit of work each week. We designed the units to take between 10 and 15 hours of work. This is just an estimate, however. Students can choose to devote 1 to 2 hours to the program per day or can choose to work a couple days of the week to complete each unit. Every student learns differently.
The competencies you will learn in VIISTA reflect the core competencies you will need as an immigrant advocate. We worked closely with lawyers, judges and potential employers to identify the core tasks you will perform on the job and then created a curriculum that would deliberately teach those competencies.
In Module 1, the curriculum has a heavy emphasis on conducting interviews, cultural sensitivity, and understanding the legal structures that govern immigration in the U.S., among others.
Module 2 emphasizes immigration law, the advocacy process, the case analysis process and connecting facts to the law.
Module 3 focuses on trial advocacy, with an emphasis on case preparation, written and oral advocacy, and trial techniques (such as closing arguments and direct examination). Taken together, these competencies are designed to prepare you to address the nuances and complexities of navigating immigration law and practice.
Because the class is online and asynchronous, the model is flexible. The various readings and activities can be completed at your individual pace and at times that work for you, provided that all the assignments are completed during the session.
Yes, each of the three modules is split into two sessions which are each 7-weeks long. Although the program is designed for students to "go at your own pace," all assignments are due at the end of each 7-week session. These deadlines are intended to assist students in staying on pace with the coursework.
No, at this time, the VIISTA program is a non-credit program and does not count toward academic credits for degrees.
Yes. Since the program is a certificate program and not a credit-bearing program, it can be taken alongside any other type of program. Keep in mind that an average VIISTA workload takes about 10-15 hours each week to complete. These hours would be in addition to whichever program you are already taking. Full-time undergraduate students have taken this program in addition to their degree requirements.
Yes, although you should plan for about 10-15 hours per week of academic work.
VIISTA is an online program. All of the Learning Activities are accessible online. Several assignments are designed for you to engage with immigrants and people in your local immigration ecosystem. For example, you plan for and conduct interviews with members of your local community.
All course modules and materials can be accessed through the Blackboard Learning Management System by using your preferred browser (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, Firefox).
Students will need Microsoft Office/word processing proficiency, access to email, and the ability to upload and download documents, as well as the ability to create and post audio/video recordings and create PDFs.
Professor Michele Pistone, Founder of VIISTA, assembled a team of leading scholars and teachers from several academic disciplines and also from practice to design the curriculum and teach the courses.
Each Module contains 14 units, broken into two 7-week sessions. The three Modules can be completed within one year (if done over 3 consecutive semesters, such as Fall, Spring, Summer), but students can take longer if they want to work at a different pace, taking one semester off before returning to study, for example. Other students may want to begin to work as a partially accredited representative while completing Module 3. The entire program must be completed within three years of the start date.
The program is designed to have three paths. Students can stop after Module 1, after Module 2, or can complete all three modules. You will receive a Certificate upon completion of each Module. If you complete two Modules, you will receive two Certificates. If you complete all three Modules, you will receive three Certificates, including a Program Certificate.
Life After the Program
Upon the successful completion of each Module you will receive a Certificate from Villanova University, College of Professional Studies. If you complete all modules, you will also receive a Program Certificate.
VIISTA can open new career paths. The program can propel you into a career providing legal services to immigrants and refugees. After receiving the VIISTA Certificate in Immigrant Advocacy, you can find a job at a “recognized organization” and ask the organization to apply to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) for you to become a Department of Justice (DOJ) accredited representative to represent immigrants in immigration court and before the Department of Homeland Security without being a lawyer. You can also become an immigration paralegal, immigration court clerk, or DHS employee. More information about DOJ accredited representatives, including the application process, can be found at the Department of Justice website.
In addition to creating new professional opportunities, VIISTA will also improve your ability to work with immigrants and refugees in your current job. For those whose work entails regular contact with immigrants—such as school counselors, teachers, social or pastoral workers, medical field workers, etc.—the program will enhance your understanding of immigration and provide you with tools and competencies to support immigrants.
Within the past year or so, the average timeframe to become an Accredited Representative was about 6-12 months. As of March 2023, the average timeframe is 3-12 weeks. This timeframe is an average and can change on a case-by-case basis.
I'm still pretty early in my career. Although I love the volunteer aspect of this, what career paths might this open?
The educational experience of Module 1 will provide you with a strong foundation for a career focused in any way on immigration – for example, working in a government agency, a non-profit organization, or a school setting. If you are interested in applying to be a partially or fully-accredited representative, you should also complete Module 2 and/or Modules 2 & 3. You can then work in a Department of Justice “recognized organization” and apply to represent individuals in immigration legal matters.
The curriculum includes learning activities related to the process of applying to the DOJ for accreditation. Additional information about the DOJ accredited representative application process is available on the Board of Immigration Appeals website.
Yes, because immigration is under federal jurisdiction, your accreditation will be valid throughout the United States. We are not aware of any state-level requirements.
VIISTA creates a new layer in the legal representation ecosystem. With this in mind we strive to foster, develop, and nurture a sense of community among all students and instructors who are a part of the program. We plan to host yearly events that will bring prospective students, current students, and alumni together, ensuring that all VIISTA participants- past, present, and future- feel like an integral part of a broader community in the legal world.
VIISTA trains you specifically for immigration purposes. If you pursue the accredited representative career path, you can represent immigrants in immigration court (if you’re a fully accredited representative) and USCIS interviews for immigration benefits (both partial and fully accredited representatives), while paralegals are not authorized to represent clients before these government agencies. As a DOJ accredited representative, you can enter your appearance in an immigration case and represent an immigrant, just as a lawyer would.
About Accredited Representatives
For a candidate to become an Accredited Representative, a recognized organization (see definition below) must file the application for accreditation on behalf of the applicant, which means that you do have a relationships with a recognized organization – either as an employee or a volunteer. The Department of Justice maintains a Roster of Recognized Organizations. In addition, some of VIISTA’s learning activities are designed to get you familiarized with your local immigrant community, further fostering your exposure to potential employers in this field.
An organization is “recognized” when the Department of Justice gives a non-profit organization in the United States permission to practice immigration law through Accredited Representatives before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (partial accreditation) or before DHS and the immigration courts (full accreditation).
By regulation, a non-profit, federally tax-exempt, religious, charitable, social service, or similar organization established in the United States that has been approved for recognition is called a “DOJ Recognized Organization.” An organization that seeks to practice immigration law solely through attorneys does not need to be recognized because attorneys are authorized to appear before DHS and in immigration court without DOJ Recognition or Accreditation.
DOJ Recognized Organizations and Accredited Representatives are listed alphabetically on the Roster of Recognized Organizations and Accredited Representatives. The Roster includes the names and addresses of active Recognized Organizations and the names of their Accredited Representatives.
The Roster also identifies the type of accreditation for each representative. An Accredited Representative who receives partial accreditation can represent immigrants with applications pending before the Department of Homeland Security and have the designation “DHS only” after his/her name, which indicates that the representative is only authorized to represent clients before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Accredited Representatives who receive full accreditation are authorized to represent clients before DHS and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) (the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)) and has no added designation after his/her name on the Roster.
Non-profit, federally tax-exempt, religious, charitable, social service, or similar organizations call apply to the DOJ to become a “DOJ Recognized Organization.” The application, Form EOIR 31A, is available online. When applying for initial recognition, an organization must simultaneously apply for accreditation of at least one accredited representative.
Can I work as an accredited representative or provide legal services to immigrants if I do not work or volunteer at a recognized organization?
No. In order to be authorized by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as a “DOJ Accredited Representative” to provide direct legal services to immigrant clients, you must work or volunteer with a “DOJ Recognized Organization.”
It is very important to understand this limitation. State and federal laws prohibit non-lawyers from providing legal services without a license and civil and criminal penalties apply for violating these laws.
However, it is possible for someone who is trained to work in immigration law for a lawyer as a paralegal. Paralegals are different from accredited representatives because paralegals do not enter into direct client relationships and have no authority to enter their appearance in a proceeding on behalf of a client. Rather, paralegals work under the direction and license of a lawyer.
Is there a need for accredited representatives all over the US, or are there particular needs in certain regions (Southern states, California, etc)?
Yes, there is a need all over the country. Of course, certain areas have more intensified demands; however, a report by the Committee on Immigration Reform Implementation (CIRI) estimates conservatively that at least one million of the unauthorized immigrants living in the United States are eligible for a legal form of relief and would have status in the United States if they had access to legal representation. CIRI found that only 1,200 full-time equivalent staff members provide legal representation to low-income immigrants through a collection of non-profit organizations, far below the demand for their services.
In 2013, the Board of Immigration Appeals set a precedent for all accepted AR applications to require demonstrating the candidate had recently completed at least one formal training course designed to give new practitioners a solid overview of the fundamentals of immigration law and procedure. While the decision to cover the cost of training is up to the organization itself, if seeking to scale representation, it would definitely be beneficial to the organization to cover the cost of training given that VIISTA would satisfy that requirement fully (and would also give further skills that, while not required by the BIA, would be of great help to the candidates, like the self-care units).
In general, all accredited representatives must show a dedication to advocate for clients ethically. Part of that is knowing when to make a referral to an attorney if they cannot handle the case and not taking cases that would cause the client to perjure themselves or commit any fraud or misrepresentation to be eligible for an immigration benefit. Accredited representatives are expected to be passionate but have professional boundaries in their service to clients.
Below are basic expectations of Accredited Representatives, both partial and full:
For Partially Accredited Representatives:
Be familiar with USCIS protocols/procedures
Understand how applications are processed at processing centers and local offices
Understand family immigration and the relationship between USCIS, NVC, and the DOS
Know basics of humanitarian relief such as DACA, TPS, U and T visas, parole etc.
For Fully Accredited Representatives:
All of the above plus an understanding of:
EOIR/ ICE protocols and procedures
The law of asylum protection
How to file motions
After completing Module 3, one can legally represent a client in court. Could I do that competently compared to an attorney?
We started backward by consulting with community stakeholders (e.g. lawyers, NGOs, migrants, potential students, retired immigration judges, etc.) and potential employers to develop a list of competencies that our graduates must have. We then built a curriculum to teach to those specific competencies. View our list of the impressive cadre of individuals involved in the curriculum's development.
Moreover, because the curriculum focuses solely on immigration, it is even more robust and holistic than is available in most law school programs, with a lot of emphasis on the real-life practice, rather than on theory.
Since this is an emerging field of study and work, there are no nationwide statistics on this job category. A good analogy are paralegals where salary levels vary by jurisdiction. For example, in the New York area the starting salary for paralegals is around $50,000. The salary can be more or less in other regions of the country. Visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics website for the latest salary and job outlook information.
Pope Francis recently called on Catholic universities worldwide to contribute to research and teaching about refugees and migrants. As a Catholic and Augustinian institution with a deep and long-standing commitment to community service and founded to educate immigrants, Villanova is answering Pope Francis’ call.
Villanova is pleased to offer a limited number of scholarships to VIISTA students. Please click the 'more' buttons below for information and to apply by 4/14 for Summer!
CPS VIISTA Scholarship
Justamere Scholars Scholarship
VIISTA IN THE NEWS
“Immigrant advocates model a new way forward to revolutionize the provision of legal services, akin to nurse practitioners in healthcare.”
-Professor Michele Pistone
"I want to make a difference in the lives of immigrants but lacked the proper skills. VIISTA addresses a real need and gives me the tools necessary to step up and provide valuable support to immigrants in my community."
"I joined VIISTA to deepen my commitment as an immigrant advocate. At the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, I have the honor of standing alongside asylum-seeking families seeking the right to protection and safety in the U.S. My day to day work has shown me the huge gaps in access to legal representation across the country and the drastic disparity in outcome, when asylum-seeking families do not have access to an attorney. VIISTA is an innovative model that removes traditional barriers to law school through its’ remote, self-paced classroom model, allowing people like me to gain a comprehensive understanding of immigration law and advocacy. I truly believe VIISTA is the future direction of the immigrant rights movement, to respond to the huge need for legal representation and to give every immigrant family their day in court."
"VIISTA provides the education and tools to turn my concern and passion into effective compassion. Along with the law, you will learn the history, spiritual and truly human aspects of immigration.
VIISTA’s interdisciplinary focus will challenge you to grow as a person, ally and companion. I have gained a deeper appreciation of the legal and human issues facing our immigrant families. Knowledge of the law gives you the tools to be effective, VIISTA’s other components provides you the means to be compassionate."
-John Marshall Kingery
Important Notices for Distance Education Students
The following includes important information for students participating in online courses, online programs and/or on-ground clinicals or practicums while physically located outside of Pennsylvania.