Immigrating to the U.S.? These Tech Services Say They Can Help
If you're thinking of moving to the United States, you might be concerned that now isn't a good time.
The wall hasn't been built, but President Donald Trump has kept his promise to crack down on immigration into the country. Those measures come on top of what is already a maze of an entry system that politicians on both sides have long called broken.
A crop of tech companies aim to ease these problems. They've developed software to make the process easier to navigate, promising to save users time or money versus working through a regular immigration attorney.
"That type of technological development would greatly lower the cost, because right now it's generally regarded as the second-most complicated portion of American law after the income tax," said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute think tank.
Here's a look at a few.
Visabot is an automated service that generates completed U.S. immigration documents after having text conversations with applicants.
The bot chats with customers over Facebook Messenger and the company's website. It asks simple questions and helps complete the application. Users pay to print the documents, which they mail to the government.
San Francisco-based Visabot has helped more than 70,000 customers apply for immigration services since launching in late 2016, many of them tech workers. Visabot's founders said their product costs 10 percent of the usual legal fees.
The value sold Maksym Klishevych, a Ukrainian software developer who needed to extend his visa on a recent business trip to the U.S. Klishevych consulted with a lawyer who would have charged him $500. A friend of his suggested he try Visabot.
"At the beginning I was worried that it wouldn't work for me and I would have to fill all the forms all by myself. However questions from the bot were easier to understand than the ones in the form and in general it was simple," he said.
Founded in 1998, Envoy Global was one of the pioneers of the immigration tech ecosystem. The Chicago- based company helps corporate clients manage the immigration statuses of global employees.
The main thing that distinguishes Envoy from newer rivals is that it isn't an attorney alternative. In fact, companies must hire its partner, law firm Global Immigration Associates, to use the software.
Envoy says it's a full-service option for the 30,000 individuals it's helped. It drafts and files the documents, and offers a portal and app that shows updates to the individual applicant, human resources, the hiring manager and others.
Chief Executive Officer Dick Burke said Trump's immigration policies had already forced businesses to make quicker decisions.
"Companies are going faster, trying to get their foreign nationals up to higher ground, thinking if there is reform, or restriction, in the H-1B program, the green card might be the way to go," he said.
Boundless is in the process of preparing its first product for the green card process. The company raised $3.5 million in funding in April, led by Trilogy Equity Partners.
The Seattle-based startup, founded by Amazon alum Xiao Wang, focuses on family immigration. The site gives people more information on their visa eligibility, cost and wait time. The service fills out forms for customers and sends them to a lawyer for review. Boundless can't give legal advice.
Chinese-born Wang said he was inspired to start the company because of his own immigration to the U.S. as a toddler. As he was growing up, he saw the high cost his parents paid to immigrate.
"The process is confusing enough and high-stakes enough that we ended up paying five months of rent for an immigration lawyer," he said.
For more on Trump's immigration policies and Silicon Valley, check out our podcast Decrypted: