Botler launches immigration chatbot in wake of US ban


Botler is launching their artificial intelligence immigration chatbot today, several months ahead of the planned April release date.

The move is in large part due to Trump’s executive order last week banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Amir Moravej, founder of Botler, is himself an immigrant from Iran, one of the seven banned countries. After completing his studies as an international student at Concordia University, like many young programmers he figured he would eventually end up in Silicon Valley. But after he gained experience working as a developer at such Montreal startups as Retinad, Relevant (then called Dashbook), nTerop, he realized if he wanted to venture out on his own, Montreal was the place to be.

He intended to apply for permanent residency in Canada, but ended up applying too late. He would have participated in the Canada Business Start-Up Visa Program, but it wasn’t available in Quebec back in 2013. Out of options, he was forced to return to Iran, where he began the arduous and research-intensive process of figuring out an immigration application.

“Everything started around 18 months ago,” Moravej told MTLinTECH. “I had to leave Canada because of my immigration problems. And while I was gone, I didn’t plan to build a bot or something, I just wanted to read all the cases about immigration from other people. I thought that was probably the best way to learn the process because I didn’t know anything up to that point.”

After discovering the sheer amount of information and the difficulty in sifting through it all to find what was helpful and relevant to his situation, he wrote a simple program to help do some of the work for him.

“I used machine learning to be able to understand the details of the cases and compare them to my own case. This way i could skip a lot of irrelevant cases and only read the cases that were relevant to me. And over time, because I was monitoring the forum 24/7, the system got smarter.”

That’s when he decided to open it up to others in the same situation.

“I decided to open it up to other immigrants. Because it’s very common in immigrant communities. They help each other, they tell each other about their cases. They go to forums, they join online communities, and they share their experiences.”

While the original plan was to publish the bot at the beginning of the April, Trump’s executive order last week caused them to speed up their timeline.

“We thought that we had to push a launch a little bit earlier because, even though it’s not complete yet, it’s in a stage that we can still help other people that are in Montreal, that are in Quebec, right now. To help them figure out how they can go over the process a little bit easier. Last week a lot of different tech startups in Canada started a movement. They wrote letters to their MPs, they signed letters urging the ease-up some legislation in Canada so that people that want to enter the US but can’t because of the current ban, they can come to Canada.”

Since winning Startupfest last July, Moravej and his team have been focusing on building Botler so that in some ways it can replicate the functions of a lawyer, helping immigrants through the process.

“Immigration is a three step process. The first step is understanding if you’re eligible to apply to a specific program or not. This is actually what we’re launching right now. The second step is, once you find you’re eligible, you need to figure out what type of documents you need to provide to the government, so that’s actually what we are building right now. Our bot can basically read documents and review the documents to make sure they look good: they have the right stamps, they have the right letterhead, etc.”

The third step is to fill out the application form, something that’s also very tricky. It’s difficult to find a lot of information about the forms and the forms are very complicated. So the bot will fill out the forms for candidates completely automatically.

“They don’t need to even see the forms, the bot will do it for them. The information that the bot will put on the forms is being populated from the documents and from the conversation the candidate has with the bot during the process. This is completely automated, we automate the full process.”

Botler is launching at Notman House tonight at 6 p.m. It will be able to assist those currently working or studying full-time in Quebec who wish to apply through the Quebec experience program (PEQ) is currently absolutely free through botler.ai.

 

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