This startup wants to keep immigrants from legal exploitation

by Andreas Rekdal
July 6, 2016

The legal process for immigrating to the United States is really, really complicated. Even for comparatively straightforward cases, putting an application together can take days or weeks, and a finished application with supporting documents can be hundreds of pages long.

One of the most time-consuming parts of that process is figuring out exactly what information is needed. Unless you’re an immigration law expert, it can be hard to decipher which questions are relevant to your particular application, not to mention what supporting documents you’ll need. There are entire forums on the internet dedicated to debating these questions.

Chicago immigration technology startup Road to Status wants to offer a helping hand to those who are struggling with that process. Co-founded by Javad M. Khazaeli, a first-generation American and former attorney for both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor, the company has built an online platform that walks its users through the application process for visas and immigration documents step by step.

Much like TurboTax does for taxes, Road to Status approaches applications like a workflow problem. The cloud-based platform distills complicated forms into simple questions while automatically filling out the user’s application with the information provided. This also helps cut down on redundant work, as much of the same information is recorded across multiple forms.

Based on user input, the platform weeds out irrelevant questions and lets applicants know what kind of supplemental information they’ll need. If red flags or questions show up throughout the process, professional legal advice is only a click away. And once an application is completed, the company provides detailed instructions on how to file it by mail.

Co-founder John Bauschard said a technology-guided application solution is a win-win for both applicants and attorneys.

“Attorneys want to spend their time on what the issues of the case are. They don’t want to spend time on the paperwork,” he said. “We basically help pull 80 percent of the information in, and they can spend their time on the ‘last mile.’”

Though immigration technology is a relatively small niche within legal tech, Chicago is already home to a major player in the space. VISANOW, which was founded by an immigration attorney, has been around since 1998. But Bauschard said Road to Status is unique because of its particular focus on family-based immigration.

Headquartered under Sprout Social’s roof in the Citadel Center, Road to Status has 12 employees to date, and the company raised $1.85 million earlier this year. In addition to offering its service directly to consumers, the company plans to license out a white label version its technology to organizations and law offices.

Though its service only officially launched last month, the company has been working with the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project in St. Louis to streamline the nonprofit's work to help immigrants. Last month, the company also partnered with FWD.us — an immigration reform organization that counts Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates among its founders — to celebrate the third annual Immigrant Heritage Month.

By making it easier for immigrants to file their own applications, Bauschard said his company hopes to empower applicants and help them avoid unresponsive lawyers and so-called “notarios” — individuals who present themselves as immigration experts and offer unlicensed legal advice to the immigrant community.

“Cities have been trying to shut them down, but that’s the problem with this space. It affects many, many people, but it’s still very much in the shadows,” he said. “We’re trying to pull it out of the shadows and turn it into a level playing field for the applicants.”

Images via Road to Status.

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