When Jeremy Peskin and James Pittman started Borderwise, a service that connects those applying for visas with qualified lawyers and simplifies much of the paperwork, they could hardly have imagined the controversy that erupted after President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
“As an immigrant, the hardships resulting from Trump’s executive order resonated deeply for me,” Peskin said. “There are hundreds of thousands of noncitizens that are eligible for green cards but lack the resources to apply. Borderwise’s mission is to eliminate that barrier.”
In response, the company will let immigrant families making less than $30,000 a year prepare attorney-reviewed green card applications for $1 instead of the standard $500.
“A green card application can require 40 pages of paperwork on over 12 different forms,” Peskin said. “For immigrants that aren’t fluent in English and can’t afford $3,000 in legal fees, this is a real problem.”
The issue is close to Peskin’s heart. A recent immigrant from Canada, he studied at Emory University, worked on Wall Street, and went to law school at the University of Pennsylvania. He also married a U.S. citizen and applied for a green card a year ago.
A corporate lawyer by training, Peskin felt confident that he could navigate the process. But after spending “a couple of hours Googling around,” he gave up and hired Pittman, the immigration lawyer who would become his cofounder.
After Peskin’s application was approved, he approached Pittman with the idea for what would be Borderwise. “The field is ripe for a new idea like Borderwise,” Pittman said. “We’re still using archaic ways to manage paperwork.”
Borderwise targets two types of customers: individuals who file for themselves and the small-t0-mid-size immigration lawyer who cannot afford to hire a large support staff.
Individuals will not only be able to use Borderwise’s software, they can also find accredited immigration lawyers on the platform. The $500 fee, of which Borderwise takes $200 as a platform fee, compares with a standard immigration lawyer’s fee of $2,000 to $5,000. Peskin adds that the company is selective in vetting and inviting lawyers onto the platform.
Borderwise Pro, as the attorney-facing product is called, aims to help attorneys grow their businesses while keeping costs roughly the same. The service has a monthly subscription fee of $25 for unlimited use. Peskin explained that the fee is intentionally low, as the company courts early adopters. It plans to charge $100 per month for new customers beginning this spring.
The company is focusing mainly on the Northeast and has more than 50 law firms subscribing across eight states. It aims to reach 100 firms before it increases fees in April. It is led by its two founders and a remote tech team, with developers in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Colombia, and India. It is recruiting a Philadelphia-based chief technology officer.
Peskin forecasts that the company will book $2.2 million in revenue by the end of 2017. Borderwise estimates that its consumer-focused product can serve the 1.8 million people who received green cards or applied for naturalization in 2015, according to the Department of Homeland Security. At $500 per use, this implies a total market of $900 million for their consumer offering.
But the market might be smaller, said William Stock, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He estimates a total market for a Borderwise-like consumer product ranges from $60 million to $80 million. “It’s not a huge market, that’s for sure,” he added.
Borderwise also faces competition from other companies targeting the same market. “Some are looking to automate the preparation entirely, and others are looking to build in referral systems as well,” Stock said. Many companies like Simple Citizen, RocketLawyer, and Visa Bot "are using similar business models.”
That said, such services could prove popular at smaller law firms. “A lot of my colleagues are solo practitioners, so the investment in a substantial case management system may not be justified,” Stock said. “If they could have access to a product like this that they could brand with their own logo, then it becomes a compelling offering.”
“Every couple of years, a company comes along and says it’s the TurboTax of immigration,” Peskin said. “That’s not us. We’re building a network of experienced immigration lawyers so someone can leverage our technology and our expertise to file the most important paperwork of their lives.”