Indeed, this article was slated to be published in March 2021 covering just the first Quarter of 2021, then in June 2021 covering the first half, then Jan 2022 to as a 2021 review… Here we are in April 2022, but I hope you still find it a useful and interesting roundup of what happened in immigration tech in 2021! Next year’s article will be much more timely, I promise.
Still, there’s always a silver lining, right? Taking longer gave me the opportunity to view 2021 as a whole and reflect on an entire year of immigration tech news. So, in this article I’ve compiled major immigration news from 2021 - from investment rounds to acquisitions to new hires and product releases as well as small tech companies that may not have made the traditional “news” but are certainly newsworthy for our industry.
So, here’s the roundup of immigration tech news in 2021 - let’s jump right in!
Boundless raised $25 million
Boundless — whose technology helps immigrants connect with lawyers and file applications for spousal visas and US citizenship — raised $25 million last year. The company has continued to grow since 2017, and has helped more than 70,000 families through the immigration process.
Boundless was co-founded by Doug Rand, Serdar Sutay, and CEO Xiao Wang. Wang, who is a former Amazon product manager, sat down for an interview with me last year about Boundless’s steady growth, and since its launch, Boundless has hit many impressive milestones, including the acquisition of RapidVisa in late 2020 and opening offices in Las Vegas, Manila, and Cebu City, Philippines in addition to their Seattle headquarters.
Boundless’s upward projection seems to indicate that B2C immigration is booming, and that more and more people are looking to apps to solve their day-to-day problems than ever before — from more mundane services like ride hailing and grocery shopping to life-changing ones like immigration applications and finding immigration lawyers.
To date, Boundless has raised over $45M in VC funding. The company’s Series B round was led by Foundry Group and included Emerson Collective, Jerry Yang from AME Cloud Ventures, Forefront Venture Partners, Industry Ventures, Pioneer Square Labs, Trilogy Equity Partners, and Two Sigma Ventures.
Continued growth seems to be a priority for Boundless as indicated by a recent job posting for a new position: Director of corporate development. The company is looking for someone to lead its acceleration of growth through acquisitions.
Fragomen acquired Nomadic
Global immigration firm Fragomen announced in June 2021 that it had acquired Nomadic, a technology-led provider of short-term travel compliance services. The acquisition was reported to help enhance Fragomen’s client-facing technology offerings, such as pre-travel assessment, visa applications, and compliance filings.
Followers of the immigration tech space might know about Nomadic and Fragomen’s existing connection - a portion of Nomadic’s team, including its CEO Brendan Ryan, started at Fragomen, and while Nomadic was, financially, bootstrapped, they did leverage Fragomen’s immigration law expertise, even though Fragomen was not a parent company or investor at the time. Indeed, Nomadic was a true startup — it wanted to build technology from the ground up and be truly agile.
Business travel has changed significantly since the Covid-19 pandemic, but major markets are recovering and travel restrictions are rapidly being lifted. Fragomen’s acquisition of Nomadic formalized the relationship and now the two companies work together to supplement in-house immigration functions and ease the global travel experience for Fragomen’s clients.
It also seems that Fragomen’s investment in Nomadic is not just capital - it’s also about strategy around the future of global immigration. Before the acquisition was announced, Brendan Ryan — who will remain the CEO of Nomadic within Fragomen’s technology subsidiary that acquired Nomadic — sat down with me for an interview where we talked about his life and career, and what it was like to run a startup in the immigration tech space after having a hugely successful and influential career on the immigration law and policy side of things.
Astara Capital secured a majority investment in BDV
BDV Solutions connects foreign nationals and employers to resolve labor shortages in the US through tech-enabled employment-based immigration services. In November of last year, the company — which is the largest independent third party provider of EB-3 employee sponsor consulting and case management services in the US — secured a majority investment and acquisition from Astara Capital Partners.
BDV Solutions isn’t specifically an immigration tech company as they focus on EB-3 unskilled workers, helping connect visa-seeking immigrants with employers and assisting with the visa application process. But part of the reason behind the acquisition was the massive tech opportunities there to streamline and automate part of the process and introduce technology into an often not-as-popular part of the immigration industry.
Astara Capital is a private equity firm that specializes in a variety of sectors, including packaging, food, and forest products like lumber, and they have first-hand experience with the hiring challenges faced by companies in all industries and regions of the country. Companies in their portfolio have been frustrated by the inability to recruit and retain employees.
The idea behind their acquisition of BDV seems to be that it will help their portfolio companies hire more successfully by having an integrated way to navigate the “unskilled worker” portion of the US immigration system. Thus, BDV can help provide much-needed labor to Astara’s other portfolio companies, and of course leverage Astara's network and resources will help grow and scale BDV at the same time.
Mitratech gets strategic investment from Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board
In 2020, Mitratech made huge headlines in the world of immigration technology when they acquired both INSZoom and Immigration Tracker, both of which were long-time staples in the immigration case management and I-9 space. Thus, Mitratech went from being a leading legal technology provider with no real stake in the immigration industry to being one of the leading providers of technology to immigration law firms and in-house immigration teams, particularly in the US.
This means that when something big happens to Mitratech, it makes immigration tech news. And so in March of 2021, when the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board made a strategic investment in Mitratech, this was a big deal. Ontario Teachers’ purchased the ownership interest from TA Associates at an enterprise value of $1.55 billion, with immigration technology likely making up a not insignificant portion of that number.
According to Mitratech’s PR release, “Ontario Teachers' is one of the world's pre-eminent private equity investors. Through its private equity arm (Private Capital), Ontario Teachers' offers companies flexible, long-term capital and a focus on sustainable value creation.” This may feel like an attenuated connection to immigration tech, but the reality is that if Mitratech does well, more and more resources can go into the immigration side of the house, which means more features, quicker deployment time, more support staff, and so on.
Seyfarth Shaw LLP launches home-grown immigration management platform Caribou
Full-service law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP, which has a sizable immigration practice, announced that they built an in-house immigration tech platform called Caribou. Caribou, Seyfarth Shaw’s website notes, is “a technology-enabled operating system for our immigration practice that combines sophisticated business process design, workflow mapping, and document automation in a sleek and modern user interface.”
One of the more interesting developments here is that Caribou is powered by Salesforce, i.e. is built atop Salesforce infrastructure, meaning it isn’t completely from scratch. This makes sense, given how difficult it is to build something as sophisticated as a fully-fledged immigration case management platform completely from scratch.
Indeed this isn’t the first an immigration law firm has built its own in-house platform on Salesforce - the law firm of Wolfsdorf Rosenthal, based in LA, has their own tool, WRapid, that’s built on Salesforce. Additionally, Mobile Pathways, a nonprofit immigration tech platform that helps immigrants access legal information via mobile phone and other technology is built on Salesforce as well.
Between Seyfarth Shaw, Wolfsdorf Rosenthal and Mobile Pathways, this niche but important trend of home-grown immigration technology platforms built on Salesforce has suddenly turned Salesforce itself into an immigration technology player, even if unwittingly. It will be interesting to watch whether more law firms go this route going forward or whether, in time, utilizing a platform solely focused on immigration will prove more successful.
Envoy Global partners with Argo Visa and lands Palladium funding
In early 2021, Argo Visa, a technology platform that connects visa applicants with former consular officers and Envoy Global, a global immigration technology and affiliated legal services provider, announced their partnership to bring consular interviews to their clients.
According to their joint press release, through the partnership, “Argo will provide Envoy Global’s corporate customers and sponsored employees with the ability to better prepare for consular visa interviews to reduce the likelihood of denials or other delays to the visa process for time sensitive and otherwise crucial applications.”
Later in the year, Palladium Equity Partners announced that it had invested in Envoy Global. Palladium was actually founded by a Cuban refugee and is one of the country’s oldest minority-owned private equity firms. Previously, Envoy Global received funding from a few other big firms, namely General Catalyst and Catalyst Investors, and according to the press release those investors are keeping their minority equity stakes.
And while I didn’t want this article to creep into 2022, I’ll allow some January 2022 news - it was announced that True Wind Capital and Elyan Partners were both making strategic growth investments in Envoy Global - lots of private equity investment into immigration technology in 2021!
Topia partners with CIBT and is awarded global mobility tech patent
In February 2021, Topia, a global mobility technology platform, announced a partnership and integration with CIBT, a global provider of visa and immigration services. The partnership aims to automate and streamline cross-border compliance for business travelers and remote workforces.
According to the press release, the partnership between Topia and CIBT will automatically identify upcoming travel that may create compliance risks, purportedly with the goal of decreasing legal exposure, and provide employers with a view of pending, active, and past employee travel and remote work and assignments, both of which have been greatly impacted post-Brexit and with COVID-19.
Indeed, moving workers across borders has become increasingly complicated, given that remote workers and international business trips can trigger tax, social security, and other employment-related obligations, having technology to support this is key. Immigration is just one part of an employee’s journey across borders, so it’s important for us in the immigration industry to know what technology solutions are coming down the pike, or are already here, that impact our colleagues in tax, HR, and so forth, especially within globally distributed companies.
Months after the CIBT partnership made news, Topia announced that it had been awarded a US patent for the systems and methods of compliance tracking underpinning their solution, Topia Compass.
According to Topia, Topia Compass is a tool used for business travel and distributed workforce compliance management, and it allows organizations to identify risk and compliance exposures. Topia Compass uses multiple data sources to provide a real-time overview of someone’s global footprint, including payroll withholding, pre-travel immigration assessments, and Schengen compliance.
BAL technology growth and, alongside Fragomen, made strategic executive hires in 2021
In late 2020 (we didn’t cover this in our 2020 immigration tech review article, so it’s here!), Berry, Appleman & Leiden LLP — a leading global immigration law firm and commonly known as BAL, created and launched Advisor, a multi-media platform which is an extension of BAL's Cobalt immigration case-management system. According to the firm, Advisor gives users real-time analysis of immigration law with the help of former government officials and industry experts. It also provides litigation updates and resources on compliance obligations.
In June 2021, BAL hired Leslie Rohrbacker to serve as the firm’s Chief Operating Officer alongside their existing executive team, including managing partner Jeremy Fudge, who I spoke with on my show last year. Before taking the BAL job, Rohrbacker worked at Fragomen for eight years as Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief People Officer.
This was a major talent acquisition for BAL, showing the firm further getting ready to lead its clients through rough immigration waters as the industry reboots and reopens as COVID-19 restrictions have eased. Rohrbacker has a strong resume as an executive leader in the immigration industry, starting her career as a litigator and eventually transitioning to in-house roles in HR before entering the immigration law firm environment.
A few months later, Fragomen, another leading global immigration law firm, hired Salvador Malo as its new Chief People Officer. According to their press release, Malo was hired to lead Fragomen's people team and attract, develop, and retain law firm talent as well as help implement the law firm’s hybrid work model. Prior to joining Fragomen, Malo was the Global Head of HR Strategy for Microsoft, with more than 25 years of HR and talent management experience at organizations like McKinsey and Ericsson.
Smaller and newer immigration tech startups made waves in 2021
Smaller and newer immigration startups also made waves, and so I wanted to cover these updates here as well so that readers can keep abreast of both established players as well as those that are up-and-coming.
Travel visa startup Atlys raises $4.25 million seed round.
Atlys, and app that bills itself as being able to reduce the visa application process down to five minutes, by asking travelers a few questions and to scan their documents is streamlining the travel visa process, raised a $4.25 million seed funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, Pinterest co-founders Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp, and the electronic music duo The Chainsmokers.
The app is also able to take passport photos and send employers letters of employment for signature, and pricing depends on where you are and where you are going, but it tops out at about $50.
SESO Labor raises $4.5 million seed round to bring tech to the H-2A visa space
According to SESO, they’ve created a service that automates, streamlines, and manages the process of applying for H-2A visas that allow migrant agricultural workers to reside temporarily in the US. When this news was first reported, SESO was working with 12 farms but was negotiating contracts with another 46. SESO expected to bring in 1,000 workers over the course of 2021.
This is exciting because rising tides raise all ships, and whereas before it was mostly immigration professionals or those who went through the process getting into immigration tech, now it's a broader array of entrepreneurs who see problems and are trying to solve them.
In this case SESO’s founder Michael Guirguis, who I interviewed last summer.
Employer-focused immigration tech startup WayLit accepted into tech accelerator
Last, but not least, is WayLit, who announced in November of last year that they had been accepted into the TinySeed accelerator program. TinySeed is a year-long program that supports startups on their path to creating a sustainable and profitable business.
Similar in many ways to companies like Bridge Immigration, Legalpad, Envoy Global, and other immigration tech companies focused on employers, WayLit gives both employers and employees access to the immigration process through a centralized dashboard and database, aiming to make the immigration process simpler and more transparent. One particularly interesting thing about WayLit is that it allows their employer clients to either use WayLit’s hand-picked group of partner attorneys or bring their own attorneys if they are happy with them.
LaborLess releases electronic LCA posting and PAF management platform update and rebrand
This feels like ages ago, but in early 2021, my electronic LCA posting and PAF management startup LaborLess introduced a brand new look.
We spent a large part of 2020 making under-the-hood improvements, from continuous security updates to infrastructure upgrades, to make LaborLess better, faster, and more seamless. But we also wanted to give LaborLess a refresh, including a more modern appearance with a pop of color.
While most of our screens, buttons, and fields remained the same to keep the user experience consistent, we added new drop down menus to more easily get support in the event of a question or with a feature request. We also made some important details around the specific LCA posting and PAF processes, e.g. PAFs are now generated automatically. And for 2022 we’re working on LCA re-posting for all the H-1B workers who moved and are working from home within the same MSA as their original LCA, prompting a re-posting… that’s coming shortly.
Immigration tech continues to grow - keep watching it in 2022
Big things are already underway in 2022 for the entire immigration tech industry. I’m always tracking the biggest news in immigration technology on LinkedIn, so follow me there!
And if you’re an immigration law firm that files H-1B visa for your clients, or an in-house immigration or global mobility interested that handles H-1B visas internally, and you’d like to learn more about how to streamline and automate your LCA posting and public access file compliance process, check out LaborLess.
We support everyone from Fortune 500 companies and the largest global immigration law firms to startups and solo immigration practitioners, and we’re here to help you get away from manual LCA posting and PAF maintenance in an effective and compliance manner. Check out our demo here, and reach out to learn more!