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February 5, 2007 

 Q&A: Robert C. Meltzer, CEO of VISANOW in Chicago, on Electronic Passports 12/19/2006
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 Ė 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 Technologyís Chicago-Kent College of Law.

In part three of a three-part Q&A, Meltzer sat down with international expert Michael Muth to discuss electronic passports and legal issues related to online immigration.

Michael Muth: What are the prospects for the Secure Border Initiative (SBInet)?
Robert Meltzer: They finally gave it to Boeing. Iím interested to see how theyíre going to secure the border with technology without implanting chips. Itís real speculative to talk about this.

I was watching a local Latino alderman on a local TV program. He said: ďShow me a 50-foot wall and Iíll show you a 52-foot ladder.Ē If you make the wall 1,000 feet high, theyíll dig underneath it. If you have a motivated border jumper, theyíre going to jump it. The real solution is a long-term economic one of creating economic balance on both sides of the border. The education isnít the same.

We still offer the most opportunity and theyíre going to come. Itís the same as the TSA agents at the airport who give us the impression that theyíre protecting us. In actuality, they donít really do much. Still, they do make us feel better. Iíll be interested to see the techniques they come up with to secure the border. While they could minimize the border problem, it still doesnít solve the macro problem.

MM commentary: Itís as simple as supply and demand (not unlike drugs). We wonít solve our drug-supply problem until we solve our drug-demand problem. The demand for our opportunities still outstrips the supply we allow to take advantage of them.

MM: Passports are increasingly required for foreign travel. How will that affect your business?
RM: As we donít offer passport services, that doesnít affect us. What impacts us are the reasons behind why people are anxious about travel documents. The more they are anxious, the more they seek help.

MM commentary: Iím not sure how making it more difficult to move between the U.S. and Canada will increase our security.

MM: Lawyers are somewhat averse to new technology. How do you convince corporate counsel to use your technology?
RM: By demonstrating the real benefits they will enjoy: a faster response time, have greater access to information and saving time.

MM commentary: Another irony is that lawyers Ė who typically bill by the hour Ė are so concerned about saving time.

MM: What are the security issues in processing legal documents over the Internet?
RM: We are changing how legal services are delivered rather than the legal service itself. We automate the non-legal activities.

We still have lawyers analyzing and applying fact to law. That communication goes into a secured account. We have secure sites and servers to store everything. Documents are stored behind a secure firewall. If you need strict confidentiality (such as in the delivery of legal services), you need to employ state-of-the-art security.

MM commentary: Lawyers are some of the most security-conscious customers. It had better be good.

MM: What are the legal tradeoffs in working with an automated online system versus individually focused service?
RM: That sounds like a trick question because we add much more value than a traditional practice. There was a study done by Ernst &Young determining that 97 percent of the immigration application involved non-legal activities. There is a very small percent that requires legal counsel. The rest can be automated.

Getting the data in the right forms is not legal. Thatís why immigration was a good candidate to move online. We give more customer care online. We use the Internet to facilitate the legal. We respond to a question in minutes instead of playing phone tag for hours.

During business hours, our response time is five to 10 minutes. If you look at our 24/7 response time, itís 30 minutes even at 2 a.m. You canít get that in a traditional practice. Weíve increased the service level. Weíre proactive. If we see a question come up two times, thatís a trigger and we make a phone call. Law firms donít have customer service and support. We do.

MM commentary: While there are tradeoffs, they wholly depend on how customers are comfortable working with them. As techies are familiar with working online, itís not an issue for them. Some people still shun technology and theyíll never come around to trusting a computer to do the work a human will do.

MM: Are there other manual legal processes that can be automated (i.e. immigration forms)?
RM: Until the states have uniform laws (real estate is a state-regulated area whereas immigration is a federally regulated area), Iíd say yes for federally oriented issues and no for state-oriented ones. If I ran a legal online service that focused on state-level issues, Iíd have to have a lawyer from every state. Anything that becomes repetitive and is moving data and documents is eligible.

MM commentary: It sounds to me like there should be more opportunities than just immigration.

MM: What do you think of the new electronic passports that contain RFID chips?
RM: I havenít seen them from foreign countries. They are being issued in the U.S. There is a debate about if it makes us more secure or if itís an invasion of privacy. They can push more data through RFID than a smart card. They can also track where the passport is located. Thatís where the privacy issue arrives.

MM commentary: I just renewed my passport and was disappointed to find I did not receive an electronic passport. Apparently not all centers are processing them. Now I have to wait another 10 years or pay again before mine expires.

MM: How can U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) centers claim wait times of years for certain classifications?
RM: This is a problem of quotas rather than lack of service by the government. The wait is years in categories that are significantly oversubscribed.

MM commentary: A waiting time of years just seems ridiculous. The system must change.

Cultural, Personal

MM: How do cultural differences between local employers and foreign-originated employees affect you?
RM: This happens in an indirect way. The whole application process creates a lot of anxiety for the beneficiary. If it doesnít get approved, their life changes. I donít think the employer realizes and understands when a potential employee is at the end of their rope. That creates difficulties for us.

We have to gauge both at all times. Itís a communications issue. Thatís always it.

That can create the same kind of disparity in how we work with a sponsor and candidate. Weíre all about communication between us and the candidate and employer. We make it easier because the employer can look and see the dialogue online. We can help improve that and facilitate those differences.

MM commentary: Different cultures deal with such stresses differently. I knew a lawyer from Denmark when I was living and working in Germany. She emphatically told me: ďWe Danes donít talk about our feelings.Ē She would deal with this situation differently than someone from the Mediterranean.

MM: How well do you think American companies assimilate foreign workers?
RM: I donít think they do a great job. I donít think itís top of the list. We are the melting pot. Itís accepted that itís incumbent on the foreign national to understand the cultural differences and compensate themselves. In HR departments, I havenít seen any program thatís even a good process. I think itís going to become more important.

MM commentary: As we receive more workers through immigration, it would behoove employers to prepare foreign workers better to work in the U.S.

MM: How well did your education prepare you for the international aspects of your job?
RM: The international experience was a big plus. The biggest thing was a sensitivity to other cultures and language.

Being on the other side when I worked overseas in my first job as a lawyer at the United Nations in Geneva, I knew what it was like to be a foreigner and not to be welcomed. As a tourist, dropping money is one thing. Sharing the bus and the Laundromat is another. I have an empathy for that experience. Itís not an easy one.

MM commentary: I have also lived in a highly developed country (Germany), and though many of the demographics were similar to ours in the U.S., they live differently than we do. That made my first three months there the most difficult three months of my life. Then I discovered the wonders of Schnieder weiss bier and everything was OK.

MM: Do you speak French?
RM: Yes. I had to. At the World Health Organization (a department of the United Nations), English is the official language but they speak French.

I had studied Spanish in high school and college because it was easier to learn. I understood the use of genders, which were the same in French and Spanish. That also made it a little easier with verb conjugation. Even with an accent, itís easier to understand if you have that sensitivity.

MM commentary: Even if you donít speak a foreign language, slow down and simplify the words you use when speaking with foreigners who donít speak English well. Assume that itís difficult for them to understand us and compensate for them so they feel more comfortable here.

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

Previous Columns in 2006:
Q&A: Robert C. Meltzer, CEO of VISANOW in Chicago, on H-1B Visas (12/12/2006)
Q&A: Robert C. Meltzer, CEO of VISANOW in Chicago, on Online Immigration (12/5/2006)
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 Chicagoís Tom Bartkoski on Chicago vs. Other Cities (9/12/2006)
Q&A: World Business Chicagoís 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 Whatís 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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