Immigration services will be included in Student Legal Services for the upcoming academic year, beginning Aug. 1.
After an update to its contract with Ohio State, SLS will begin taking cases related to immigration this fall after almost a year of preparation, Andrew Peiffer, staff attorney at SLS, said. The expansion does not increase the $40 SLS fee, which is included in tuition and fees.
Peiffer, the immigration attorney on staff following a year of studying, said that although there are no specific services listed, SLS will adapt as cases come in.
“At this point, it’s very broad in large part because we just don’t know yet what kinds of cases we’re going to see,” Peiffer said. “We are opening the door to just about everything.”
Peiffer also said that SLS encounters certain common questions regarding immigration, such as inquiries about employment rules for non-citizens, post-graduate jobs that require a change in citizenship status and the marriage of a citizen leading to the right to become a citizen.
Molly Hegarty, managing director of SLS, said in an email that SLS has been asked for help in immigration matters, and the number of people asking indicated a need for the expansion. She said that SLS does not have specific statistics on the number of requests for immigration counsel it received.
“However, we regularly received requests for services throughout the year and benchmarking of similarly situated SLS programs demonstrated the need as well,” Hegarty said.
Degree-seeking, Columbus-campus students who pay the SLS fee are able to see lawyers at SLS as much as needed, and the only additional charges students may incur are filing fees, Peiffer said.
According to the Office of International Affairs’ website, nearly 1,500 international students will arrive at Ohio State this fall semester. Peiffer said that Ohio State’s international student population should be able to focus on the reason they came to campus: education.
“To be able to provide assistance to those students in order to ensure that they can stay on track and succeed as students and graduate from this university is something that I’m very excited to help with,” Peiffer said.
Before the expansion, SLS had to refer students to outside lawyers with an immigration specialty, Peiffer said. However, SLS has started to counsel a handful of cases since it received approval to begin counseling immigration cases a few months ago, Peiffer said.
“We said, ‘You know what? Let’s try this out and see how it goes,’ and we’ve had success in those cases, so that’s been very encouraging,” Peiffer said.
Peiffer said that the expansion is consistent with the overarching mission of SLS, which is to provide legal advice, representation, education and resources to students to help them focus on their education.
“These are people who, in a lot of cases, if it weren’t for us, wouldn’t have access to an attorney, and we’re able to help them resolve problems that might be a lot harder for them to deal with on their own and might take away from their focus on their time as students here, which I wouldn’t want to happen to anybody,” Peiffer said. “I think that that’s even more true in the immigration context, when we’re talking about students who in many cases don’t have the same system of support that your average domestic student might have.”