Immigration makes up a substantial proportion of population growth both in Canada and the U.S. It plays a huge role in job fulfillment and the growth of the economy. However, the path to getting a work permit or residency has long abided by outdated, paper contract methods.
Due to the sheer volume of file cases each year, government processors have a difficult time getting back to clients in a timely fashion—often taking months after the application is sent. Worse even, sometimes the smallest errors will automatically be declined after a client has been waiting for months to hear back.
Bureaucracy is one issue, and another is the stubbornness to adopt certain technologies that can make this process more seamless and efficient. In recent years immigration lawyers have faced competition due to the rise of immigration consultants. Thus, they may see technology as an impediment to their valuable time and expertise.
People by default consult lawyers for immigration because it’s seen as the most secure way to handle the process. However, processing delays and thousands of dollars spent, are leaving some clients frustrated with the system.
Marc-André Ranger has spent the last two decades in immigration law and consulting. He had previously owned shares in an immigration law firm and owned a case processing company in Montreal between 2009 and 2017. His frustration with congestion and high costs led him to start Immisight, a technology-based solution to immigration case processing. He shares his thoughts on the challenges in the current immigration industry and how technology can enable a solution to help alleviate these issues.
Interviewer: You’ve worked in the Canadian immigration industry for the past two decades as well you were a shareholder for the past 4 years in an immigration law firm. What inspired you to leave that behind to pursue this venture?
When I became a shareholder in a law firm it was something quite new because the Quebec bar had only recently allowed non-lawyers to become minority shareholders in law firms. So I took that opportunity and entered into a joint venture with a lawyer.
The whole idea was that we wanted to be as efficient as possible when we processed files. It’s been something that was on my mind all the time during those years; how could we improve the process. For example, back in the day, we would send a Word document or a PDF to a client, and they would have to fill it out, print them, sign them originally, and send them back. You can imagine it was quite time-consuming. But the government was slowly evolving towards digital case processing with the portal, My CIC, so I thought you know what? Immigration is all about data. It’s about your life history—when you were born, the origin of citizenship, the countries you’ve been to, criminal record, marital status, and kids. Collecting this data was taking up the bulk of the time and that’s where I got myself involved with building digital forms, to be able to gather this information live online, instead of the good old email exchange.
Interviewer: What are the biggest challenges you think your industry (immigration) is facing at the moment? What’s your take on the solution?
It’s been the same problem forever and it’s processing the leads. This is more on the government side than it is on ours. The government is making efforts we’re going to give them that. I mean, they’ve tried now to implement artificial intelligence to speed up case processing. But processing delays, for sure have been a major issue.
The other issue that’s related to the processing delays, is government workers, because they are slammed with these big volume of cases and they are very prompt to send back an application for whatever reason. Often it’s such a minor mistake that in other types of industries they would have not sent it back. But because it’s immigration, and they have so many files, and it’s this big, anonymous bureaucratic machine.
For example, if you would apply for a Labor Market Impact Assessment, there are 18 pages. If you forget one little box, your file is going to be sent back as incomplete. Sometimes it’s sent back two to three months after you applied. The client becomes extremely upset and, rightfully so.
With the current technology we have, it is possible to solve these problems. It’s just a matter of people getting used to it and adoption.
Interviewer: What are some emerging trends you see in your industry? What do you think about blockchain and smart contracts?
Blockchain? I don’t see it right now. The legal industry is a bit of a dinosaur. Very hard to adapt. I mean people are surprised when they use my technology because it’s not very complex. Yet, look at my competitors and they’re using Word or Excel sheets and they send everything through e-mail which is very insecure.
So getting to the blockchain, I think is something we’re gonna have to talk about in 10 years. In terms of trends, software like DocuSign and Adobe sign has been a total gamechanger. These days, people are mobile and they’re not necessarily right in front of their computer with the printer.
Interviewer: What’s your advice for people who might shy away from tech because it appears overly complex? From my understanding, you’re not a ‘tech’ guy by nature.
I’ve always been very curious by nature. Tech is complex and when it’s beyond my level of expertise, there are people out there that can help you. I read in an article that at least half of the CEOs of tech companies are not tech people. There are a ton of people that are not engineers. They’re business people, they see problems, they see an opportunity, they have an idea in mind, and then they go see these professionals.
The technology I’ve built, I didn’t build it just on my own with my two hands. I had a good friend of mine, who was a Salesforce integrator who said, “I’m gonna give you a good piece of advice. Don’t try to do everything on your own.” And he was right.
There were certain things I always believed I couldn’t do, and I wondered why certain people could and I couldn’t. Then I started paying attention to what they were doing. You start seeing, oh, this is how it’s done. And you go through the good old trial and error, but you learn. So my advice would be for anyone that wants to shy away, I’d say don’t shy away from learning. Because down the road, you want to be able to do some of this stuff yourself.
An example is a no-code industry. With platforms like Bumble, for example, you have all these digital forums like JotForm or Formstack. And for things during Twitter live, you don’t need to be a programmer, they’re quite intuitive if you pay a sufficient time to learn. Sometimes people use the excuse of being “too busy.” And my response is I went from two to 15 employees in four years. Meanwhile, my daughter had leukemia, and I spent 300 days in the hospital. And it didn’t stop me from learning and building.
These difficulties didn’t preclude me from learning, in fact, they probably saved me because I was able to focus my mind on how to evolve.
Interviewer: How do you see trust as an interplay between immigration law and the adoption of this type of technology?
I work with good old fashion relationships. The only platform I use for marketing is Linkedin. What I promote is ‘can we talk to each other?’ If I’m going to do a work permit, I need to know I’m going to be working with legitimate employers who are not out to exploit their foreign hires. We establish trust right from the beginning starting with a conversation. I always do my due diligence when it comes to researching a company.
One of the big advantages I have is my pricing. I’m not here to take thousands of dollars from my clients. I’m probably the only one who encourages my prospective clients to call others, shop around and see if they can find better pricing.
Cost is not the only factor. Another issue with law firms is the length of time it takes for them to respond to clients. Moreover, you would have to pay upfront to speak with a lawyer. We take that out of the equation. We have a lawyer that can provide assessments and we’re not going to charge you anything for it.
I was asked in the past to establish law firm in Vietnam. One issue we faced was there was a lack of competition. Why would that be a disadvantage? Because I would have to educate every client on the process, it would be hard to adopt trust because it’s just something they haven’t seen before. It’s the bit the same now with my technology.
Interviewer: What are some of the toughest things about being a tech entrepreneur?
It’s no different being a tech entrepreneur than being an entrepreneur in any other industry. As an entrepreneur living in Canada, it feels like the entire world is against you sometimes. My previous venture was worth a couple of millions, yet the banks felt much more secure with my wife who had a government job in terms of financing us with a mortgage. My employees would have an easier time with their T4s than I, as an entrepreneur.
I would say the number one thing for entrepreneurs is to have resilience. With any kind of business, problems will arise. Whether it’s issues with employees, suppliers, or people threatening to sue you. You’ll always face judgment even when you’re successful, people will be jealous, and call you a crook. You can never win.
But as the French say, “Those that die without a fight, die without glory.” If you decide to hop into this exciting world of entrepreneurship, there will be many things ahead that will bring you a lot of purpose and fulfillment. I’m much happier now in this new startup venture than I was at the end of my time at the multi-million business.
And there are times when it’s this huge mental battle. Coming from a successful company with all the infrastructure set up, there were staff available before they could reach me. Now starting a venture from the ground up, I have to pick up the phone and make cold calls and have people wonder who I was and what exactly I was doing. It’s difficult some days but in the end, it’s been a humbling experience and one that brings me a lot of joy.