Navigating the immigration process can be difficult for those unfamiliar with the American legal system. To help immigrants in this situation, 2013 Penn Law School graduate Jeremy Peskin and immigration attorney James Pittman created Borderwise, an online platform both immigrants and immigration lawyers can use to prepare immigration applications.
Pittman, the startup’s chief product architect, said Peskin came to him with the idea for the service after he helped prepare Peskin's immigration paperwork. They identified an opportunity to use technology to simplify the application process.
“Instead of [immigrants] having to pay a lawyer $3,000 to $5,000 to do everything in the case, the user has done the work themselves using the system,” Pittman said. “It’s an intelligent interface which responds dynamically … [and] will ask the user questions in response to the user’s inputs in order to … guide the user to preparing immigration applications.”
Following President Donald Trump's executive actions restricting immigration, the co-founders decided to offer the service, which usually costs $500, for just $1 to families living on less than $30,000 per year in household income. They said all proceeds from this promotion will be donated to nonprofits.
Peskin, an immigrant himself, said he understands the struggle and uncertainty that many immigrants face in trying to apply for legal status, and wanted to ensure that Borderwise would be available to those with lower incomes.
"As I watched the executive order and the follow-up that ensued, and the hardships it created, that registered pretty viscerally for me," Peskin said. "Borderwise’s mission is to eliminate the obstacles to immigrating, but we know that even at our $500 price-point … we’re still leaving some people behind.”
According to the Penn's International Student and Scholars Services website, there are five ways to obtain permanent residence status, also known as a green card, in the United States. Immigrants can petition for the status through a close relative, by claiming political asylum, through an employer, by winning the annual green card lottery or, in exceptional cases, through self-sponsorship.
Though Peskin said the platform is currently only set up for green card applicants with family sponsorship, the service will soon introduce a new feature to help immigrants with the naturalization process as well.
Pittman emphasized that the company's leadership felt that they needed to take action to alleviate some of the fear immigrants may feel in the current political climate.
"We wanted to show the immigrant community that they were not under siege from all of American society," he said. "Immigrant communities feel targeted by the administration and they feel uncertain and even threatened. So we wanted to do something positive to counteract some of that negativity."
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