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Our Immigration System Sucks – Is There a Tech Fix?

Sooner or later, everyone who is in the tech field for the long run bumps up against the U.S. immigration system. The tech talent pool is global, our engineering schools have plenty of international grads looking to be placed into U.S. jobs, and smart international investors are looking for U.S. tech entrepreneurs to back. And the unanimous reaction to the immigration encounter is “the U.S. immigration system really sucks!”

recent article in Wired skips over the convoluted politics of immigration reform (it’s really going nowhere) and looks at recent attempts by the federal U.S. Digital Service to tech-up the process itself. On first glance, they were floored by the amount of paper (yes, ground-up dead trees are still the foundational mode of communication in the immigration system) being shuffled from office to office. And then they looked at the heavily silo-ed transactional processes that prevent effective collaboration and information sharing, and began to recognize just how entrenched and calcified existing bad practices have become.

So have the engineers got a fix for all this? Let’s hope so, but I’m not holding my breath. The report delivered to the White House sums up the present state of affairs pretty accurately - “currently, applicants face unnecessary ambiguity and confusion around how each step in the application process fits into the process as a whole, and lack of awareness of how to succeed.” I think if the Digital Service succeeds in their task of rationalizing and digitizing the immigration system there will be a whole lot less need for immigration lawyers like me to lead clients through the maze. Which, truth be told, would be a very good thing for everyone involved. Higher productivity, increased transparency, better predictability for innovative start-ups, and lower transactional costs overall can’t be bad. And I expect to be retired by then.

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