I wrote a “2020 immigration tech update” back in August, where I largely covered the acquisition of TrackerCorp by Mitratech and a few other immigration technology announcements, thinking I would be done for the year. It was already one of the most exciting years in terms of the immigration tech industry.
Plus, we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, most borders were still largely closed (which meant there was much less immigration), and the global economy had taken a hit.
There was no way that 2020 was possibly going to bring more major immigration tech news, right?
Wrong. Way wrong.
2020, as far as I know, has turned out to be the absolute biggest year for immigration tech in history. And so I wanted to write this second update to summarize everything that has happened since August, and add a few more things I learned about that I missed in my first update.
Let’s dive right in.
Quick recap of my first 2020 immigration tech update
I’ll keep this part short and sweet. I’d encourage you to go back and read my first article, but in case you don’t want to or don’t have time, here’s what that article covered:
- TrackerCorp was acquired by Mitratech in July 2020
- Legalpad raised $10M in January 2020
- Boundless raised a $7.8M Series A in March 2019
- SimpleCitizen raised $5.8M in November 2019
- Terra Dotta raised $3.4M in May 2019
- SuperVisas raised $50K in February 2020
- Bridge, InfoTems and BlueDot all rebranded their platforms
- Why I’m bullish on electronic LCA compliance.
Here are all the major acquisitions and partnerships across immigration tech in 2020 since my last article
When Mitratech, an Austin, Texas-based, private equity-backed legal and compliance software company announced its acquisition of Tracker on July 31, 2020, it came as a surprise to many in the industry. Suddenly, a large, well-funded legal technology company became a player in the immigration space. A space that was, until then, largely made up of smaller, privately owned companies.
Suddenly, there was this new buzz in the air around immigration tech.
Well, like an experienced day drinker transitioning from lunchtime beers to dinnertime cocktails, the buzz not only remained, 2020 intensified from a buzz into an all out immigration tech acquisition-fest.
Boundless raised another $7.5M and acquired rival RapidVisa
Just over a month after the acquisition of Tracker made immigration tech headlines, news broke on September 2, 2020 that Boundless, a Seattle-based startup that helps individuals file green card and citizenship applications, raised a $7.5M Series A-1 round (which is basically a follow-on of their Series A round) to acquire Las Vegas-based RapidVisa.
Similar to Boundless, RapidVisa, which has been around since 2007, provides a tech-enabled service that helps individuals file for various family visas. Not to use this overused example, but a “TurboTax” for immigration, of sorts.
Rapidvisa was a more mature player in this particular space with many thousands of applications under its belt. The PR release noted that “the deal will double Boundless Immigration's team size, allowing for faster application processing as well as tripling the number of immigration categories supported through technology.”
Through this acquisition, Boundless itself grew substantially, expanding “its global footprint, adding offices in Las Vegas, Manila, and Cebu City, Philippines in addition to their current Seattle headquarters.” Plus, as for the team itself, Boundless nearly doubled in size “by adding 45 employees from Las Vegas-based RapidVisa.”
On the heels of the TrackerCorp acquisition, this news was super exciting. I thought 2020 was already red hot from an immigration tech perspective.
Well, apparently, I hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.
Fragomen acquired immigration tech startup SimpleCitizen
Literally three weeks later, on September 23, 2020, the immigration technology industry was shaken once again when global immigration law firm Fragomen announced it had acquired SimpleCitizen, a Salt Lake City, Utah-based immigration tech startup that was, much like Boundless, automating and streamlining the family-based immigration process.
This acquisition was different, however. According to the press release, Fragomen seemingly purchased SimplyCitizen not just for its existing business, but also for its core technology to, presumably, eventually become the entire firm’s technology platform. According to the press release, “the integration of SimpleCitizen is expected to begin immediately and phase in over time. SimpleCitizen will adapt the core platform to scale and align with the firm's services, ultimately covering all countries and immigration case types” (emphasis added).
One of the most interesting pieces here was the fact that Fragomen created a new subsidiary called Fragomen Technologies, Inc., in order to make this acquisition happen. Presumably due to the fact that non-lawyers can’t partner with lawyers (yet) and so that SimpleCitizen could remain independent of the law firm, but either way it makes me wonder - will Fragomen now potentially acquire more immigration tech startups?
Fragomen’s chairman and namesake, Austin T. Fragomen, told Business Insider in October, that with the acquisition of SimpleCitizen the firm intends to compete with the Big4, who provide immigration and other supplementary services to global companies around the world in a way that’s been historically hard to compete with.
By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about the story and life behind Sam Stoddard, SimpleCitizen’s CEO and co-founder, check out my interview with him on my podcast.
Oh, you thought I was done? Well this was not the last major acquisition of the year. The next one happened just over a month later.
Mitratech acquired another immigration tech company: industry leader INSZoom
It was Sunday, November 8, 2020, and I had just settled into a much-needed, week-long vacation in the Hudson Valley. I promised myself that it would be a real vacation - no work, no news, and definitely no social media - and that I would spend the majority of my time hiking, eating and sleeping.
Everything was going according to plan… until Monday night, when I got a cryptic message from Umesh Vaidyamath, CEO of INSZoom, telling me that there was going to be an “announcement” the next day. No details, no other context. Just a short text. Naturally I was excited, but not over the moon - I assumed it would be a new product launch or something.
The next day, November 10, after a filling upstate breakfast, I went out on a morning hike. While walking I remembered Umesh’s text message from the night before, and casually pulled out my phone to see what the news could be. I googled “INSZoom, news” figuring it would be quicker than scrolling through LinkedIn trying to figure out what happened. But when I saw the Google search result come back, my mouth dropped to the floor.
The same Mitratech that had acquired TrackerCorp a few months earlier, was now folding INSZoom, a decades-old immigration technology leader, the first cloud-based provider in the industry, into its ranks. In an instant, Mitratech went from being just a new “player” in the immigration tech space to being an 800 pound gorilla in the room that no one in the industry really knew all that much about.
The PR release noted that “the acquisition of INSZoom further complements Mitratech's growing suite of products to reduce risk across the enterprise and shows a continued dedication to the immigration compliance marketplace,” presumably alluding to their recent acquisition of TrackerCorp.
Of course this left me wondering: Tracker and INSZoom were previously competitors (at least to some extent), so whose technology will prevail as the immigration case management platform that Mitratech will adopt? Will they be combined? Will one of them be shut off? Something else?
As with some of the other acquisitions, once again, only time will tell.
Ultimately, Umesh’s story of starting INSZoom in his garage to selling it to Mitratech two decades later is an inspiring one to say the least. If you want to hear his entrepreneurial journey, check out our conversation on my podcast.
Fragomen spinoff startup Nomadic acquired The Visa Team
This wasn’t a widely publicized acquisition, and it happened in early 2020, but it was one I missed in my first 2020 immigration tech article, so I wanted to include it here. Nomadic, a travel document management startup, announced on February 11, 2020, that they acquired The Visa Team, expanding their “global footprint and market share in the business visa and passport industry.”
According to their own news release, The Visa Team is “an established visa and document services provider with a filing network of over 70 jurisdictions worldwide” and so “the acquisition of The Visa Team in the UK and UAE expanded Nomadic’s filing capability and allows for the roll-out of cutting-edge technology developed by the two organizations”
It sounds a lot like the Boundless + RapidVisa acquisition mentioned above: a younger, likely more well-funded tech startup acquires an older player in the game that has an established business but not the same brand or technological edge. Hopefully this coming together of the old and the new brings out the best in both of them: agility, speed and edgy branding with historic business success, geographic expansion and experience.
If you want to know a bit more about Nomadic, they had actually debuted at the 2019 Worldwide ERC conference in Boston, and had just launched a month earlier, and at that conference I had a chance to speak with some of their team members and learn more about the product.
To borrow from that article, Nomadic is “a pre-trip assessment tool — companies add their roster of employees to Nomadic and, when it’s time for one of them to take an international assignment, whether into the US from abroad or elsewhere around the world, Nomadic assesses what that employee needs and can then either digitally apply for their necessary travel visa or otherwise help facilitate the process.”
With five immigration tech acquisitions in one year, 2020 was insanely exciting on this front. But before ending this section. I wanted to mention one more major update in the space, though it wasn’t an acquisition per se...
Pearl Law Group became Corporate Immigration Partners and partnered with Envoy Global
This one is super interesting because there are a lot of moving parts. Shortly after TrackerCorp was acquired by Mitratech, Julie Pearl, an immigration lawyer, the founder and CEO of TrackerCorp and the founder and namesake of Pearl Law Group, announced that she was stepping away from her law firm, handing it over to her then-leadership team, and that the firm was going to be renamed “Corporate Immigration Partners” (CIP).
This was a pretty big deal in and of itself - Julie is an immigration powerhouse and seeing her sell TrackerCorp and retire from her law firm less than a month later sent shockwaves through the industry.
But this was just the beginning.
As the new firm, CIP, emerged into the spotlight, they made their own major announcement: a strategic partnership with Envoy Global.
Envoy Global - a major immigration tech company and the successor brand of VISANOW - had up until then only partnered with one law firm, the lesser-known Global Immigration Associates (GIA), as the immigration law back-end to their technology front end. But this new partnership with CIP meant that Envoy Global will now support two immigration law firms, meaning that, as a platform, it just effectively doubled its corporate client base.
Not necessarily an immigration tech merger or acquisition, I’ll admit. But still an exciting and certainly impactful move in the immigration tech landscape.
Smaller immigration tech startups fundraise for growth, both inside and outside the US
It’s great to recap all the major immigration tech and all, but I also love digging deeper into the industry and finding news and updates that aren’t really being talked about anywhere else. So let’s look at some of the smaller players that made immigration tech moves in 2020.
AI immigration chatbot YoTengo.Bot raised $200K from the state of Maryland
YoTengo.bot is a Baltimore, Maryland-based immigration tech startup that’s making waves in the AI-powered chatbot scene. The brainchild of Jared Jaskot, an immigration lawyer and the founder of jaskot.law, YoTengo was the natural progression of what Jared was already doing as a lawyer - building automated client intake chat tools to be able to get to as many potential clients as possible, particularly while he was volunteering at a local immigration nonprofit.
He was initially using bot-building tools already available on the market, but quickly realized they weren’t powerful enough for his vision, so he started building his own, from scratch, funding it through his law firm’s earnings. It worked initially as the bot actually helped him double his firm’s revenue in a year. But soon, even that wasn’t enough.
So in mid-2020, after mostly self-funding and taking in a bit from friends and family, Jared started looking for outside funding, and ultimately raised $200,000 Maryland’s TEDCO Seed Fund. The interesting thing about this fundraise, Jared told me, was that it came without a stated valuation - the $200K was awarded as a promissory note (a P Note), which is “a debt instrument that converts to equity in the company that issues it when certain conditions outlined in the promissory note are met.” In this case, those conditions were a subsequent fundraise within 18 months of receiving the $200K. I guess that’s why they say that startup fundraising is very much a hamster wheel.
So what’s Jared going to use this first $200K for?
“My technology was very difficult to execute,” Jared told me, “I couldn’t just build an MVP website and let it loose.” Indeed, Jared explained that YoTengo’s AI engine requires a lot of high-level engineering which, unfortunately, doesn’t come cheap.
Aside from engineering, Jared shared that “it's also really about getting to the next level of sales. For me, it's about trying to get to 75, to 100 customers with this money.”
If you want to learn more about YoTengo, or see if it can help out your immigration firm, check out their website or connect with Jared Jaskot directly. Also, if you want to hear Jared’s story, check out our conversation on my podcast.
Nonprofit immigration tech startup ImmigrationHelp.Org received generous funding to help their mission of providing free immigration filings
I don’t often get to write about nonprofit immigration tech companies, but this is one of them. Immigrants Like Us (ILU), which does business as ImmigrationHelp.org, helps individual applicants prepare immigration applications completely for free. Currently they support DACA renewal applications, Citizenship applications, work and travel permits and several green card application types.
They also provide “free attorney review of applications for low-income users, victims of abuse, asylum seekers, and ‘Dreamers.’”
And how is it that all of this is free? Donations and funding from various foundations.
Ben added that they’re currently working on grants and outreach to high-net worth individuals, and using the funds they’ve received so far “to cover expenses and invest in content production to increase our SEO and thus user reach.”
It’s inspiring to see immigration technology being used to truly close the access-to-justice gap - if you want to learn more about the company or their cause, check out their website.
Visto.ai raised a friends and family round to streamline the Canadian immigration law process
Now it’s time to go international. First up is Visto.ai, an online platform that helps international students and workers immigrate to Canada. The company was founded by Josh Schachnow, a Canadian immigration lawyer.
So what’s Visto? It’s a free portal where Canadian immigration hopefuls can learn about the Canadian immigration process and, if they’re ready, walk through the whole thing all on their own. If questions arise as they go through it, they have the opportunity to engage and work with an immigration attorney at any point.
Initially, Josh was bootstrapping the Visto portal while running his law firm and built out the initial version himself. But to take it up a notch he knew he needed some outside investment. Josh shared with me during a phone call that he needed outside capital “so we could start building more of the actual automation tools.” He raised an initial friends and family round, and while he didn’t disclose the full amount raised, he noted that some of the investors are other entrepreneurs who are not just providing capital but also strategic advice and guidance.
This fundraise was during the summer, so where did that capital get deployed?
On Thanksgiving of 2020, Josh announced their new Visto Qualify tool - a tool that “will check your eligibility for more than 65 Canadian immigration programs all in one place.”
I’m super bullish on Canadian immigration tech, because as Canadian immigration grows in the coming years, investment in immigration tech north of the border will surely increase.
Oh, and I also had the chance to chat with Josh about his career and journey to starting Viso. If you want to hear more about Josh, check out our conversation!
VISARIGHT.eu raised seven figures to automate and streamline German immigration
Crossing the Atlantic, we have an immigration tech startup out of Germany called VISARIGHT that’s simplifying and automating the German immigration process. VISARIGHT’s founder, Andreas Kopysov was born in Russia and himself immigrated to Germany when he was young. Andreas eventually joined the German air force for 12 years and then worked as a foreign officer for the German embassy all over the world where he, among other things, granted visas to individuals seeking to travel to Germany.
Eventually, Andreas got the entrepreneurial itch when he noticed that there was room for automation and technology in the German immigration process, and decided to launch VISARIGHT in late 2018.
In March 2020, VISARIGHT announced a seven figure investment (link is in German, FYI) from German VC firm bmp Ventures AG. With this infusion of cash, Andreas moved the VISARIGHT offices from Berlin to Magdeburg, and is focusing on hiring and growth.
I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Andreas on my podcast as well, so if you’re interested, listen to it here!
Xpath.global raised 2 million Euro, including from the EU, to create a marketplace for immigration and global mobility service providers
Xpath.global is a Software-as-a-Service enabled Marketplace ecosystem in the global mobility industry whose main purpose is to, as the team told me, “transform this industry from a sloth into a cheetah, accelerating the global mobility processes.”
Here’s what Xpath provides:
- A marketplace with vetted, local bottom-line providers directly offering their professional services worldwide, with a bidding feature for HR teams where HR can issue an RFP for whatever services they want in any of the countries they are looking for help in;
- An Expatriate Resource Planning platform synchronized with the marketplace to keep track of everything either from the buyer or seller perspective, including some RPA and ML that automate repetitive tasks and workflows, cost projections and more;
- An expat mobile app where assignees keep track of their processes and can spend their allowances / lump sums for additional services they might need.
In terms of funding, Elena shared that out of the total 2M EUR of funding that Xpath has received so far, one million Euro came from an EU program for innovators and the second million from the founder’s own investments.
But a nice foundation of capital isn’t all Xpath has going for it. Elena told me that they’re also backed by 2 business advisers with deep marketplace know-how: Stefan Haney, a former Amazon exec who helped build Amazon’s marketplace, and Florin Filote, who built a large online marketplace in Eastern Europe.
It’s incredibly exciting to see this much action in the immigration technology space, and not just in the US or Canada, but truly across the world.
As the founder and CEO of an immigration tech company myself, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a small update about where my company, LaborLess, is and what we’ve experienced over the course of 2020 as well.
2020 was a boom year for electronic LCA posting and public access files management, too.
2020 has been the huge year for LaborLess, our biggest yet. I don’t usually talk about business publicly, but a little celebration after a really tough year seems OK.
In 2020, here’s what we accomplished: we doubled our client base, signed our biggest deals to date, made a ton of back- and front-end improvements to the LaborLess platform, and I personally had the opportunity to speak on a number panels, participate in webinars, get featured in SHRM about immigration tech, and so much more.
Part of this, I think, is based on the same reasoning that Zoom, Amazon, Slack and other similar tech companies did so well this year - they are all really good at providing a digital alternative for something that was historically done manually and in person.
The immigration industry followed a similar trend. As immigration law firms went remote due to COVID, those that weren’t already set up from a tech standpoint had to quickly accommodate a work-from-home setup, both for their staff and their clients. Similarly, H-1B employers had to ensure that their internal immigration processes could continue to run smoothly amidst the shift to remote work.
So where did electronic LCA posting and public access file (PAF) management come into play?
Well, whereas H-1B employers historically printed LCA notices and posted them in their offices to comply with Department of Labor regulations, they weren’t really able to do this anymore, both because (1) no one was in the office to print these forms and (2) all the workers that theoretically had to be notified by these forms weren’t there either.
The industry scrambled, and one major trend that came out of this was asking H-1B workers to print their own LCAs notices and post them somewhere at home, most commonly (as far as I’ve heard) on their kitchen fridge.
But if the purpose of these regulations is for a company to notify workers at their respective worksites (which traditionally was their office) that the company was hiring H-1B workers, posting this LCA notice at the home of the prospective H-1B employee provided no such notice.
On the one hand, yes, the regulations require posting at the “worksite” and so if you want to get technical, when someone is working from home, their home is their worksite.
However, the regulations were mostly written before “WFH” was a thing, and in my view, the whole point of the regulations is to, first and foremost, put other workers on notice of the H-1B hire. Thus, posting at home for the dog and family to see does nothing to notify the company’s existing workforce of the intended H-1B hire.
It turned out that a lot of law firms and employers agreed with this. My startup LaborLess enables both employers and immigration law firms to digitize and automate their LCA posting and PAF management process. When we launched in early 2018, electronic LCA posting was more so considered a “nice-to-have” But after 2020 and certainly moving forward as more companies and their immigration law firms go virtual, it’s turned into a “must-have.”
And we’re proud that as this shift happened, we were ready to help. I mean we saw it coming, though like everyone else, we didn’t expect things to move this fast, and this quickly. I guess there are silver linings to everything, including devastating global pandemics.
We’re excited for 2021, especially as the Biden administration, which has promised more favorable immigration policies, takes office.
Some final thoughts
This is by far the longest article I’ve ever written about immigration tech, but 2020 was also the longest year of our lives. Honestly, I shouldn’t have put this article off until the year ended, but hey, even us immigration tech nerds are human, okay?
Now that 2021 is here, I think we’re going to see a lot of the major 2020 moves really play out. E.g., how will Mitratech maneuver into the immigration industry? Will they be at AILA, SHRM or Worldwide ERC conferences, or will they market their new immigration tech arsenal some other way?
Will the 7- and 8-figure VC-backed immigration tech startups continue to raise money and grow? Will there be more acquisitions, buyouts or mergers?
Will the upcoming batch of smaller and more niche immigration tech startups that have bootstrapped or raised friends and family rounds so far start taking on institutional funding? Will they even have to?
And as more immigration tech companies start popping up around the world, what, if any, synergies will there be between these players on a global level?
Hopefully 2021 answers these questions and more.
In the meantime, be safe, be kind to each other, and buckle up as the immigration tech industry goes for one hell of a ride