Jul. 6, 2017 12:40 pm

The immigration process is complicated. Borderwise is making it simpler

The Philly startup aims to make applying for a visa or citizenship more accessible — and less expensive.

Borderwise founders James Pittman (left) and Jeremy Peskin.

(Courtesy photo)

Luis Aponte Peña, a project manager and translator, came to the United States from Colombia 11 years ago with a J-1 visa.

He overstayed his visa and was without status during those years, he said, and found it challenging to navigate the process of attaining the necessary paperwork. When he got married last December, a friend recommended Borderwise.

“I think they just made everything easier,” Aponte Peña said. “They developed this app, and they integrated it with the forms required. It’s like four or five different forms, very complex forms. Every time you put information [into the app], it’s automatically reflected in legal forms.”

Typically, when applying for a green card or citizenship, those seeking immigration help can either hire a lawyer to complete all of the paperwork needed — or do everything on their own.

Borderwise seeks to find a solution in between. The online platform helps individuals fill out and submit immigration applications virtually by answering a few basic questions. Attorneys provide guidance to clients while also screening possible issues with each case.

The idea for Borderwise partly came about after the creators wanted to send a positive message in response to the negative national rhetoric around immigration, according to cofounder James Pittman: The app was rolled out after Donald Trump’s first executive order was announced in January.

Borderwise has spearheaded several initiatives in order to ensure that it’s accessible:

  • Nonprofits with legal programs are able to use the product for free to assist their practice.
  • Borderwise is seeking community ambassadors who have connections in immigrant communities to help reach possible clients by word of mouth.
  • Pittman participates in the Take Action Philly initiative, which addresses changes in federal and state policies through collaborations between local attorneys, the government sector and organizations.
  • Borderwise offers a year of free access to law students who are considering a career in immigration.
  • The team will soon be deploying tools for deportation and asylum cases, which law school students will be able to access on a free basis when working with clients.

Borderwise is also working to build a nationwide network of attorneys to expand its scope of customers. Although the app can be used from anywhere, Pittman and co. would like to have a panel review attorney in every locality in the United States.

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According to Aponte Peña, the most inexpensive lawyer he found was going to charge $2,300 for the entire process, while the cost to use Borderwise was $500. The best part of using the software, he said, was that he got to learn much more about the immigration process.

Pittman says that if a consumer’s family has a combined income of less than $30,000, Borderwise will charge $1 for the application — you may recall the announcement of that deal earlier this year.

Since this is a new program, Pittman said that the team is looking to expand the product to be applicable to additional types of cases. That could include, say, companies seeking to sponsor employees for immigration benefits, or schools that need help assisting students applying for visas.

“Immigration law is very complex,” Pittman said. “There are numerous categories for applying for different types of status, and a variety of different statuses.”

Within the status types, one can fall under temporary or permanent status, as well as non-permanent status, which is granted to international students, for example. Then there’s permanent residency, which consists of the right to work and live in the U.S. indefinitely. And visas are their own beast.

Pittman said that a combination of changes in regulations, changes in enforcement priorities, and political pressures contribute to the complexity behind immigration law.

“There has been rhetoric from certain sides of the political spectrum to really demonize immigrants and portray them as undesirable,” Pittman said. “Immigrants by and large contribute to the community, and they are providing services.”


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