Three Startups Aiming to Disrupt Immigration Law

Gabrielle Orum Hernández, Legaltech News

The crowd chants in favor of immigration law reform during a massive rally held at the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 10, 2006. The crowd, estimated at 500,000, stretched from the Washington Monument to near the Capitol. Organized by the National Capital Immigration Coalition (NCIC), the rally was part of a nationwide web of rallies, with 142 cities represented. The rally featured speeches by labor union leaders, faith sector leaders, and prominent politicians such as Senator Ted Kennedy. NCIC leaders and other grassroots organizations plan to convene to outline future steps in bringing more immigrants out on election day, and to map out a strategy for political action in favor of immigration reform and immigrant rights. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/LEGAL TIMES.
The crowd chants in favor of immigration law reform during a massive rally held at the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 10, 2006. The crowd, estimated at 500,000, stretched from the Washington Monument to near the Capitol. Organized by the National Capital Immigration Coalition (NCIC), the rally was part of a nationwide web of rallies, with 142 cities represented. The rally featured speeches by labor union leaders, faith sector leaders, and prominent politicians such as Senator Ted Kennedy. NCIC leaders and other grassroots organizations plan to convene to outline future steps in bringing more immigrants out on election day, and to map out a strategy for political action in favor of immigration reform and immigrant rights. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/LEGAL TIMES.

These three companies are using technology to cut through complex bureaucracy and pricey attorney expenses to help users prepare their immigration applications.

Navigating the U.S. immigration process is known to be a headache and a half—not only do potential applicants need to properly categorize their current status, but they need to figure out which specific forms and addendums to submit, make no factual errors, and submit their names to exceedingly long waitlists.

At present, all applicants have to fill out and submit paper forms to their local immigration office. Though U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has promised an online submission system for immigration applications, it’s not expected to be completed and functional until 2019 at the earliest.

While some immigrants need significant legal assistance to deal with litigation, removal orders, and even detention, many applicants are relegated to paying steep attorney fees simply to fill out their application forms. These three startups, among others, are helping immigrants steer through the complex waters of immigration law across language barriers and on a budget:

  1. Clearpath Immigration

Using TurboTax as a base model, Clearpath took the 30 most commonly used immigration forms and broke them into simpler pieces for a far more user-friendly form completion experience. Co-founder Michael Petrucelli also has deep roots to the U.S. immigration system, having served as deputy director of USCIS for two years.

Clearpath’s software does not help users decide which form they need to fill out, which lawyers often cite as one of the prime reasons to seek direct legal assistance—attorneys help clients choose one among many potential routes to legal status in the United States. Clearpath does, however, have some user assistance and support in place, and will prompt users to seek legal assistance directly if they offer unsuitable answers to the forms.

Once forms are completed through the Clearpath system, the company charges a flat fee, generally under $200, to prepare and print the forms.

  1. SimpleCitizen

SimpleCitizen, Y Combinator’s second investment in immigration law-based startups, has also drawn comparisons to TurboTax. The company aims to walk potential clients through the immigration application process from start to finish with a similar decision tree-based model for inputting form information, along with tutorials and video lessons to help people understand next steps.

Currently, the company is working with a practicing immigration attorney to review documents prepared through the SimpleCitizen system, though it may look to conduct automated reviews with more data to work from.

The form completion work comes at a flat fee of $249 for a full packet preparation, not including USCIS submission fees. SimpleCitizen offers its services only for green card and citizenship applications to date, with visa services soon to come.

  1. CitizenshipWorks

Though many form completion startups around immigration keep client costs low and predictable, CitizenshipWorks is one of the few startups that offers the service completely free. The platform was a collaborative effort between the Immigration Advocates Network and Pro Bono, and it helps users specifically with the naturalization and citizenship processes.

Immigration Advocates Network director Matthew Burnett said in a statement that only 10 percent of those eligible for naturalization take steps to apply for full citizenship. CitizenshipWorks hopes to encourage the remaining 90 percent to apply for full.

The platform includes lots of contextual information for users, who may be confused about some of the jargon-filled language in the form’s questions, along with free video conferencing with immigration attorneys.

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