VIISTA FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

APPLYING TO THE PROGRAM

Tuition for the entire program (Module 1, Module 2 and Module 3) is $3810.  Each Module is $1270.

Unfortunately, federal student loans and/or scholarships are not available to cover the cost of tuition. However, Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of the Poor (ADROP) is offering scholarships for students to enroll in VIISTA. To learn more about this scholarship and to apply, please visit the ADROP website

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. 

The program launches in Fall 2020.  Admissions is rolling.  Once the program is running, each Module will be taught three times a year, starting in September, January and May.

You will become a Villanova University student once you enroll in VIISTA. We welcome all prospective students to enroll.  When you enroll you will have all the rights and benefits of a Villanova student.  For example, you can access the Villanova library online from anywhere, use campus facilities, and enjoy being associated with a top national research university.

Yes. VIISTA is an online program. You can enroll from any state in the country.

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, and the curriculum is designed to give each student the time he or she needs to complete all learning activities and master the learning outcomes.

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.  

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 in the past without issue.

Yes, although you should plan for about 10-15 hours per week of academic work.

VIISTA is an online program.  You can take the VIISTA program from anywhere.  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.

You will need a computer, tablet or smartphone, with video-recording capabilities. All course modules and materials can be accessed through the Blackboard Learning Management System by using your preferred browser (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, Firefox).

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.  The course will be taught by an instructor.  The Program Coordinator will be available to help with any non-academic and non-technology related issues.

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 each Module you will receive a Certificate in Immigration Advocacy from Villanova University, College of Professional Studies.

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.

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.

The program is designed to have three paths. Students can stop after Module 1, 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 (basically a nonprofit) 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.

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:

Court procedures

EOIR/ ICE protocols and procedures

The law of asylum protection

How to file motions

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.

Michele R. Pistone

Professor of Law & Director, Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES)
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law

SUPPORTED BY:

MacArthur Foundation


 

j.m. kaplan fund logo

VIISTA PERSPECTIVES

michele-pistone

“Immigrant advocates model a new way forward to revolutionize the provision of legal services, akin to nurse practitioners in healthcare.”
-Professor Michele Pistone
Founder, VIISTA

adam-vincent

"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."
-Adam Vincent
VIISTA pilot student

nicole-tan

"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."
-Nicole Tan
VIISTA Pilot Student

jane-brady

"I believe in an America that welcomes all people, a humanitarian America, an America that demonstrates leadership with integrity and compassion. Our immigration system is broken and I cannot stand on the sidelines while so many people are suffering. VIISTA is giving me the knowledge, skills and experience that will help make me part of a solution."
-Jane Brady
VIISTA Pilot Student

john-kingery

"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
VIISTA Pilot Student