It's a tough time for immigrants. These local tech companies are trying to make things a little easier

by Quinten Dol
July 12, 2018

From the Pilgrims and potato famine refugees to foreign-born techies and escapees of the world’s current war zones, the United States has long been considered a land of sanctuary and opportunity.

But that doesn’t mean immigrants have it easy here.

The United States is a nation of workers, home to over 300 million people hustling toward various definitions of success. New arrivals typically land with a limited understanding of the language, few resources and virtually no support network — and must quickly find a way to survive. Add in the bureaucratic labyrinth that awaits visa applicants (or the shadow world of those without papers) and you begin to understand how difficult an immigrant’s life can be — and the character of those who choose to stay.

On top of all that, the federal government has recently hardened its view on immigration and used a variety of methods to make life even more difficult for recent arrivals. With that in mind, we went in search of Seattle tech companies trying to make life a little easier for our society’s latest entrants.


matt oppenheimer remitly founder seattle remittance sstartup
photo via remitly

Immigrants who have come to the United States from developing countries often do so to support family members back home. For some countries, remittances sent back by the diaspora can account for over a quarter of total GDP, making them vital sources of income both for an immigrant’s family and their home country’s economy.

Immigrants sent home around $574 billion in 2016, yet Remitly co-founder Matt Oppenheimer says 8 percent of that total is siphoned away in fees. (That’s well over $40 billion, in case you’re wondering.) Remitly’s platform aims to make it simpler for immigrants to send money to friends and family via their app, and reduces costs to a flat fee (rather than a percentage) — or eliminates them altogether in certain cases. The company currently facilitates remittances sent from the United States to 12 countries in Asia and Latin America, with plans to expand.

What challenges do your clients face, and how does your work make life easier for them?

Our customers have made huge sacrifices to leave everything behind when they moved to another country to live and work, looking for a better opportunity to provide for their loved ones financially.

Immigrant communities have long been taken advantage of and ripped off by financial institutions and services. Remittances are an important service for these communities that have long been overlooked. Remitly is a global transfer network working to make this important staple of immigrant life easier with our easy-to-use mobile app, which makes the process of sending money faster, easier, more transparent and less costly by eliminating the forms, codes, agents, extra time and fees typical of the traditional, century-old money transfer process.

We’re committed to immigrant communities around the world and honored to make the experience of sending money across borders easier for the hard-working individuals who contribute so much.

We cannot relent because the work is not done.”


Why is your work necessary today? How has the immigration experience changed since you have been working in this space?

I have spent my career serving migrants around the world, whose hard work provides money to family and friends back home for basic necessities such as food, shelter and education. They willingly sacrifice to provide a better future for themselves and their families.

Today there are persistent attacks on immigrants as a class, and a cynical use of their very lives as political bargaining chips.

Last week we released data from a study conducted on the attitudes and experiences of immigrant communities in the U.S. Amazingly, nine in ten immigrants believe the American Dream — that everyone in America has the chance to be successful and happy if they work hard — is still achievable, despite the challenges they face.

Our work to help and support immigrant communities is so important. If we pause to reflect upon the deep motivations of our immigrant communities and the value they provide to our country, we can restore the path toward building a fair and just immigration system for the 21st century, one that includes all of the children, dreamers and workers who seek only to achieve the American Dream.

We cannot relent because the work is not done. We need swift legislative action to send our leaders a clear message that places the value of American humanity, decency and unity above politics and partisanship. By reaffirming our basic principles, we will have taken our collective first step toward building an immigration policy worthy of the American ideals of liberty and justice for all. 


Xiao Wang Boundless Immigration founder
photo via boundless immigration

Boundless shepherds immigrants through the convoluted process of acquiring a green card. The company has created a web application that fills out application forms based on a simple questionnaire, which is given in the applicant’s native language. Boundless then connects applicants with an independent immigration attorney, who vets their materials. The company then packages the materials correctly and mails them to the applicant, with instructions on how to submit.

Co-founder Xiao Wang says Boundless Immigration offers savings and peace of mind to its clients.

“At roughly one-fifth of the cost of a typical attorney, Boundless customers can complete all of their application requirements with under two hours of effort,” he said. “No other immigration solution provides anything close to this level of convenience and affordability, where technology and legal services are integrated to deliver customer confidence.”


Where did the idea to form Boundless Immigration come from?

30 years ago, when my parents and I immigrated from China, we paid a lawyer nearly five months of rent to complete our green card application because it was so high stakes, and we didn’t know if we were doing it right. This is the same struggle that millions of other immigrants go through every year to legally come and stay in America. Sadly, the only things that have changed in the past 30 years are that the system is more complicated, and that attorney fees have gone up.

After talking with hundreds of families, lawyers and government policy experts, I realized that the reason immigration is so difficult is due to a lack of information. There are two groups of people who know how immigration works: the federal government, which continues to add complexity to the system, and lawyers, who benefit financially from this perceived complexity. With technology and data, this can finally change. We can finally provide all families with access to the tools, information and support once reserved for those who could afford high-priced attorneys.

Believe it or not, the projected wait time for a green card popular with Indian professionals is 150 years.”


Why is your work necessary today? How has the immigration experience changed since you have been working in/paying attention to this space?

I think we can all agree that we’re in an unprecedented era of uncertainty when it comes to the immigration system, and record numbers of families are looking for someone they can trust. Currently, over 100,000 people are reading immigration content and information on our website per month. Over 5,000 are starting their applications through Boundless. We are providing a critical service during a critical time.

The immigration climate changes very rapidly, and we strive to share trustworthy, grounded information with our customers. In this world of hot takes and increased polarization, we will only provide clear, non-sensationalist and actionable content — and our customers appreciate that. As examples, we have written about the increasing wait times to receiving work and travel permits, rule changes for international students who may lose their status and how Dreamers could prepare for Congressional action (when there was a chance reform could pass).

Unfortunately, the United States’ immigration system has become even more difficult to navigate, with visa backlogs swelling and wait times increasing across the board. Believe it or not, the projected wait time for a green card popular with Indian professionals is 150 years. In addition, shifting enforcement priorities have made previously-held practices out of date. As an example, families are now facing the new threat of arrests by ICE at marriage-based green card interviews.


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