The Student Government (SG) Free Immigration Legal Aid (FILA) initiative provides students with the opportunity to speak with a licensed immigration attorney to find the best course of action to resolve the issues. individual immigration issues.
The new program had its first session on Friday and was moderated by SG Solicitor General Natalie Vlckova. She said common examples of issues international students face include work or student visa search procedures and general inquiries about the naturalization process.
Student body president Julia Cunningham said SG’s priority is to provide international students on campus with legal support in an effort to help ease the stress associated with the immigration process.
“The Legal Aid program is a way for students to connect with area attorneys and ask them questions about immigration or get involved in the legal field,” Cunningham said.
As it stands, FILA sessions will take place on a monthly basis on Microsoft Teams, exact dates are yet to be determined. To attend a session, Legal Aid of the SG Web page recommends that students pre-register on BullsConnect.
Students wishing to attend a session do not have to meet any financial or case-specific requirements to qualify, and only 25 slots are available per session. Vlckova said the reduced size of the meeting is intended to promote greater dialogue between the students and the attorney who would not be present if the session was otherwise crowded.
“I limited the program to 25 students because I was concerned that everyone wouldn’t have enough time to ask all their questions about their specific cases,” she said.
“Having a smaller session allows everyone to ask more questions and dig deeper into their individual situation, which is what I was hoping for.”
There are more than 5,000 international students from more than 145 countries on the Tampa campus, and many hold college F-1 visas, according to USF’s Office of International Admissions. website.
As the most common type of student visa, the F-1 requires a student to have a valid educational purpose to attend college in the United States, in which the student must provide proof of their ability to finance their education as well as proof of full-time course registration.
As evidenced by F-1 visa requirements, the expansive nature of the benchmarks that international students must meet to qualify to study in the United States can confuse students who are unfamiliar with the process.
To minimize these concerns, Vlckova said the goal of the FILA initiative is to provide a safe environment where international students can have the opportunity to discuss their questions and concerns in a public forum format with the help of l lawyer assigned to the session.
“I intended to do some session [informal]”, Vlckova said. “I didn’t want it to be scary sitting with a lawyer where it might not be something the students have experience with.”
“I wanted it to be as friendly as possible…and open the floor to ask questions and not be nervous about it.”
In addition to managing any concerns students may have about the immigration process, those at SG coordinating the FILA initiative also seek to remove the financial barrier that would otherwise be present with private immigration legal counsel. .
Prospective students of the program may be deterred by the expectation of having to pay for the initiative’s legal services, however, Vlckova said the sessions are free for students.
Juana Segura, a USF student who attended the legal aid session, said that the provision of free legal aid by SG alleviates the financial problems that most international students face when undergoing the process. of immigrants.
“Most of us international students can’t afford an immigration lawyer,” he said. “This kind of help…is very helpful in giving us ideas of what we can do or who we can contact.
“Although it was not an in-depth session where we could ask questions about the specific details of our cases, I came away with an idea of what I can do, as well as a reliable lawyer that I will keep on hand. spirit in the future.”
Although the first meeting of the FILA initiative was successful in its implementation, Cunningham said there was still room for improvement in future sessions in terms of broadening expertise and experience. lawyers presiding over the session.
“We would like to diversify the lawyers we bring in and maybe hold a few more sessions,” she said.
“It would be interesting to talk to attorneys from different parts of Florida and from different areas of law. But I think for now it’s a very good program. This can certainly benefit a large majority of our student population.
As demand among international students has been high for more help from SG, Vlckova said she sees the program as a service that can help provide needed assistance to current and prospective international students who are undergoing the immigration process.
With the SG election process approaching later this month in early March, the FILA initiative could potentially be suppressed or challenged by the new SG administration depending on the objectives for their term.
“With each administration, they have the option to pursue these initiatives or let them go,” Cunningham said. “I hope the president-elect after me recognizes the benefits that the immigration legal aid initiative brings to our student body.”