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December 5, 2006 


 Q&A: Robert C. Meltzer, CEO of VISANOW in Chicago, on Online Immigration 12/5/2006
The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.


VISANOW's logo CHICAGO – Currently CEO of Chicago-based VISANOW, Robert C. Meltzer is an author, lecturer and recent adjunct professor of international law at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law.

He received a bachelor of arts in political science from the University of Colorado in Boulder and a juris doctor from Northern Illinois University’s College of Law.

In addition to his traditional U.S. legal education, Meltzer furthered his international legal education by receiving certificates and diplomas from the Henri Dunant Institute in Geneva, Switzerland; the IIDH in Strasbourg, France; and the University of Salzburg’s McGeorge School of Law in Salzburg, Austria.

In part one of a three-part Q&A, Meltzer sat down with international expert Michael Muth to discuss the benefits inherent in the online immigration progress.


Technology

Michael Muth: How does VISANOW use technology to expedite immigration management?
Robert Meltzer: As an immigration services provider and as an alternative to a traditional immigration law firm, VISANOW manages the immigration process online from beginning to end. You can break that down into four areas:

  1. Applications
    It’s a form- and document-driven practice.

  2. Questions
    While the applications are pending, the beneficiary and sponsor, employer or HR professional will have questions that are answered online. By doing it online rather than relying on the phone, we are able to answer much faster.

  3. Management of Deadlines
    It’s a very date-sensitive type of practice. For all expiration dates, we keep track that online and provide access online.

  4. Strategy
    An overall immigration picture that is facilitated through questions and responses online.

When necessary, we can go offline, but you would be surprised how seldom that is required. We offer much more than the traditional practice because we leverage the Internet’s online efficiencies.

We can react much faster, provide much more access to information and save time. Every year, we develop enhanced features to keep it state of the art. For example, in this year’s version, you can access all information regarding the whole family on one page online including your spouse and children.


MM commentary: While managing a legal process entirely online seems like a radical concept, VISANOW seems to be succeeding in doing it.


MM: Why use FedEx for paper documents if you can use digital signatures?
RM: We can advance technology as fast as the government will let us. They still require that we present evidence in paper format. We can do everything online, but at the very end of it, we have to submit evidence in paper format to the government. Though you have the option to file the application online, you still have to send in the evidence to the government.

We also courier the final approval document to the client. All the preparation of the application is captured online. We capture signatures and approvals of forms electronically.


MM commentary: I find it ironic that the government encourages us to file our taxes electronically so they can generate their revenues faster yet they still adhere to old-fashioned and costly methods that ultimately cost taxpayers money.


MM: What’s patented?
RM: We have a business process patent that includes four basic elements:

  1. A retainer agreement
  2. A questionnaire interface, drawing data and populating forms
  3. A query interface for client questions
  4. The database itself

It was approved a few years ago as a “network-based legal system”. It’s not limited to immigration. We see it as fairly broad and are still evaluating its applications and reach.


MM commentary: You can now patent parts of the Internet. Very cool.


Customers

MM: Do you assist Americans in getting visas elsewhere or foreigners needing visas in the U.S.?
RM: We primarily process U.S. immigration applications and foreign nationals coming into the U.S.

We offer a new way to deliver U.S. legal services and immigration. Immigration was a great candidate to begin offering legal services online because it is form and document oriented. We are now working with a partner that can handle U.S. citizens going overseas, which is referred to as “outbound services”.


MM commentary: This is most cost effective and profitable. Otherwise, they’d have to know immigration in all other countries in which they work. That could be expensive. As much as I rag on our “unautomated” government, ours is far ahead of many others.


MM: Do you deal with third-country visas (foreigners in other foreign countries)?
RM: No. That would be included in “outbound services”.


MM commentary: VISANOW’s outbound partner may be a big help in opening up this opportunity.


MM: Do your customers come from Chicago, the U.S. or the world?
RM: Most of our customers are not in Chicago. There are some reasons for that. Generally companies that move to online legal services tend to have to be progressive. Chicago businesses still tend to be more conservative.

This is the Midwest. This is a new paradigm to have your legal services delivered online. In the beginning, all of our clients came from Silicon Valley. The problem is they were the dot-com firms mostly that closed up within a few years. Most of our clients are located in high-tech areas like Austin, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and San Francisco.


MM commentary: Here’s another advantage to the Internet: being able to reach your customers – regardless of where they are – even in a high-touch area like law. It’s also an advantage to be in Chicago and to be centrally located to different locations.


MM: Which is your largest base of customers in terms of revenues?
RM: In a traditional practice, a lawyer can manage 400 to 1,000 cases at a time if they have great management skills. They can open 100 new cases per year. Utilizing our technology, our lawyers can open 2,500 to 3,000 new cases per year and manage 10,000. That allows us to spend more time on legal issues and become one of the fastest-growing providers in history.

Guy Kawasaki of Garage.com is one of our shareholders. To be innovative, he says you have to jump the curve by a magnitude of not just two or three but 20. He says we do. Telecom and aerospace are big for us. If there’s some high-tech element, that’s good for us.


MM commentary: After the dot-com implosion, it sounds like VISANOW avoids the software and Internet companies.


MM: The number of immigrants in technology is relatively small. How important are they?
RM: When you talk about employment-based immigration, more than 50 percent of the applicants have higher educated backgrounds. There are 1 million new immigrants per year who gain permanent residency. Of those, 140,000 are employment based and the rest are family based.

The greater percentage of the 140,000 have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Those applications are generally made by businesses.


MM commentary: In a labor force of 152 million, that’s less than 0.1 percent. Qualitatively, perhaps the impact is bigger.


MM: As a small technology company, how can I leverage visas and foreign workers?
RM: It sounds like two questions. First, regarding foreign workers, it’s putting the cart before the horse. “Would I rather have foreign workers because there is some strategic advantage?” Rather, there is a need the American workforce cannot fill.

Regarding visa applications, they can be used as a retention tool for foreign nationals. Workers start with a temporary visa and an employer can offer permanent residence to a foreign national. This essentially transfers from H-1B visa to a green card. During that process, you have a better chance of retaining that employee.


MM commentary: Many foreign workers are worth fighting for to keep. Tempting them with a green card can be good business.


Issues

MM: As baby boomers retire, we’ll need workers. Will they be able to get visas?
RM: Not today. We don’t have enough available. As baby boomers retire, the government will talk about those positions that need to be filled and hopefully increase the number of visas for those classifications.

Today we have more than 500,000 openings for nurses without an adequate response from immigration regulations. Immigration needs are under ongoing administrative and Congressional review. The constant raising and lowering of the H-1B cap is an example.


MM commentary: We may be flooded with more immigrants as boomers retire and immigrants do the jobs we used to do.



Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at mike@intlalliances.com.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.

Previous Columns in 2006:
Q&A: Morningstar CEO Mansueto on Role in International Investing Scene (10/31/2006)
Q&A: Morningstar Founder, CEO Joe Mansueto on Mutual Funds, Investing (10/17/2006)
Q&A: World Business Chicago on Chicago as a Success Story (9/19/2006)
Q&A: World Business Chicago’s Tom Bartkoski on Chicago vs. Other Cities (9/12/2006)
Q&A: World Business Chicago’s Tom Bartkoski on Economic Development (9/5/2006)
Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of 1SYNC in Chicago, on Enforcing Data Standards (8/15/2006)
Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of Chicago-Based 1SYNC, on Data Standards (8/8/2006)
Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of Chicago-Based 1SYNC, on Data Synchronization (8/1/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Sportvision in Chicago on Creating Sports Innovation (7/11/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Chicago-Based Sportvision on What’s Coming Next (6/27/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Sportvision in Chicago on Enhancement Technologies (6/20/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Japanese Culture (6/6/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Japanese Expansion (5/30/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Compliance, Partners (5/16/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on Trade Shows (4/4/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on International Partners (3/28/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on Overseas Expansion (3/7/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Chinese Readiness (2/7/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Chinese, U.S. Differences (1/24/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Approaching Chinese Expansion (1/17/2006)
Click for 2005 column archive.
Click for 2004 column archive.



     

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