Bridge U.S., once upon a time called LexSpot, was rebranded to focus its efforts through innovative technology on improving the immigration process and at the same time simplify it. In addition, the company provides affordable legal services for individuals and businesses in order to maximize the success rate when filing an application form.
Romish Bandai, founder of Bridge U.S., explains the idea behind starting the company because of the struggles he witnessed personally with it and the frustrations he witnessed watching his own family struggle with a complicated system. The focus of today’s interview is about how the company vastly improves the immigration experience, the process while helping applicants reduce expensive fees with the support of technology and a network of attorneys collaborating with the service.
1. Can you provide a bit of the background of how the idea of Bridge US came about?
Bridge US is the result of years and years of frustration seeing my family struggle with the complex immigration process. I’ve had friends and family apply for the wrong visa, “break the bank” to pay pricey immigration lawyers, and even get kicked out of the country – all because the US immigration process is incredibly confusing and expensive. I knew the world deserved a better solution.
2. In the “About Us” section of Bridge US you state the United States Immigration system is broken. Can you provide some examples of what does that look like today with concrete examples?
The problems with the system can be broken into two main categories-problems with immigration laws and problems with the application process. A few examples of each can be found below:
Country quotas result in extraordinary wait times for qualified applicants. In some cases, the backlog is as long as 20 years. Entrepreneurs and STEM graduates are currently being denied opportunities to work and create jobs in the U.S. This is hurting our country’s economic competitiveness. Deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants (who are productively contributing to our country) is impractical and unjust.
The immigration code, like the tax code, is very complex and impossible for the average individual to understand. This leads to people not understanding what immigration pathways they qualify for.
There are over 250 different immigration forms, each with a unique set of convoluted instructions and requirements. Frequent mistakes are costing applicants dearly, including denied applications.
Immigration lawyers are very expensive. As a result, two-thirds of immigration applicants are attempting to apply on their own instead of working with qualified professionals. This exacerbates the mistakes and headache described above.
3. What has been the most challenging aspects of putting this ambitious website in the service of Immigration? When did it become clear that your focus should be immigration and not something else?
Originally, immigration was going to be one of a few different legal processes we planned to streamline. However, as we spent more time learning about how big this problem truly was, we realized that our focus needed to be 100% on immigration. Immigration is one of the biggest issues facing individuals, businesses, and our country. Early on it became clear that trying to tackle any other problem simultaneously would detract from our mission of making the immigration process easier.
4. How has Bridge US been able to collaborate or assemble a team of many different lawyers from different corners of the United States?
The interest from immigration lawyers around the country has been very strong. I think the biggest reason is because, unlike many legal technology companies that are trying to avoid involving lawyers, lawyers play an important role in our solution. Our platform helps applicants and lawyers work together as an efficient team, resulting in more business for lawyers and lower fees for applicants. We have a great relationship with lawyers nationwide and they are recommending us enthusiastically to their peers.
5. How is Bridge US any different than the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website for general applicants?
It’s similar to how TurboTax is different from the IRS website. The USCIS website provides a long list of forms and complex instructions that might be fine for an immigration lawyer but is difficult to navigate as an applicant. Instead of applicants reading about hundreds of different immigration options on the USCIS website, Bridge US asks a few simple questions and generates a personalized immigration eligibility report for the user.
The next step is completing an application. With USCIS an applicant must find the right forms, read the complex instructions, complete the forms, and organize the necessary supporting documents – all without any assistance. With Bridge US an applicant simply answers questions using our guided online interface and we take care of the rest. Our software checks for hundreds of errors, automatically completes the right government forms, and tells the user exactly what supporting documents are required in their specific scenario. Users can also upload these supporting documents, like a birth certificate for example, to our site so that all of their documents are organized in one place. In short we automate a very manual process and, in the process, eliminate common application mistakes.
6. What is the next phase of this startup? Is the company going to be heavily involved in voicing immigration reform?
Our service is entirely focused on immigration processes for the individuals and families that apply. While we will strive to make these processes simpler, we will be expanding into business immigration services sometime in the near future. Making it easy, affordable for businesses to legally bring the world’s top talent to the United States has always been an important priority for Bridge U.S.
The company will continue to be a supporter of immigration reform. Our immigration system is archaic and the impact on individuals and our country as a whole is disastrous.
7. A recent report by the International Business Times explained that 172,500 guest worker visa petitions were submitted to hire potentially skilled foreign nationals. The cap is 85,000, so that is more than double the requests allowed. Is this perhaps an area that your company is trying to fill in the gap within an immigration system that is failing to keep up with the demand?
There are a couple areas where we can help in this area. First the cost of filing those 172,500 visa petitions is close to $1 billion (the average legal fees for an H-1B application is about $5,000). That’s a staggering number, especially if half of those applications are not approved. We will dramatically reduce that cost. On our current platform, we are reducing legal fees by up to 75%.
Second, small and medium-sized businesses are at a steep disadvantage. They don’t have the big legal budgets to keep pace with large corporations so they either don’t apply or have a tougher time getting approved. Our goal is to level the playing field and give these smaller businesses the same opportunity to hire these critical employees.
8. What is the ultimate takeaway about the company? What sets it apart from another startup?
We are attacking one of the biggest problems in the country today, our broken immigration process. Immigration should be a joyful process that opens doors to social and economic growth, but today it’s painful. We are making immigration delightful.
9. In your own words, what is the most important aspect to remember about Bridge U.S.?
Similar to above, the most important aspect to remember about Bridge US is that we are making the immigration process easy and affordable.