YC-Backed Teleborder Wants To Use Tech Smarts And SaaS To Cut Through Work Visa Red Tape

While immigration reform continues to be a hot topic of contention in the U.S., Teleborder, a new startup that’s part of the current batch of YC companies, has developed a service that aims to tackle another aspect of the issue: the immense amount of red tape that companies have to go through once they do decide to employ someone from outside the U.S.

The problem, says co-founder and CEO James Richards, is that when it comes to work visas, while a lot of companies are keen to bring in top talent to fill vacant positions, even when the U.S. immigration authorities have created channels for them to do so, it’s time-consuming to gather together the different documents needed and very easy to get it wrong, get the application rejected, and then have to start again.

Teleborder has come up with a way to distill the process so that the documents are gathered and tracked online, and verified to make sure all the right boxes are checked (so to speak), taking some of the human error out of the process and taking on some of the bureaucratic burden itself. The solution is sold to businesses themselves — based on the fact that most permit applications need to be initiated by them at this point. In future, he says this may change to also cover individuals applying for permits.

Getting work visas for non-U.S. citizens is a problem that has wide applicability in the U.S. alone, where each year up to 140,000 people from outside the U.S. are granted permanent work permits for special skills; that’s not counting the thousands who are granted temporary work permits.

“Whether you are bringing on a chef or an engineer, all companies have to go through the same process. It’s a generic issue,” Richards tells me. That said, he says that Teleborder has been already working with a number of tech companies first, partly because that’s the most immediate industry around them, and partly because “they have been most receptive to this early on.”

“Tech companies tend to be highly leveraged,” he says. “Companies like Google can make millions of dollars per engineer, so they tend to search everywhere for talent and have the most acute need for us.” And when the company in question is a startup, it could be staffing up fast, and often without large HR departments to handle that workload. (Google, he notes, handles up to 1,000 work visa applications annually.)

Richards says it’s already been working with a number of tech companies as paying customers; it will be revealing their names during the YC demo day later this week.

There is another advantage to working first with tech companies: the rate of adoption. Richard notes that in general the biggest obstacle for adoption has been getting companies to put Teleborder into their work flows. “It’s like asking them to adopt another piece of CRM software,” he says. Other competitors in the space include LawLogix and INSzoom, but these are really designed (and priced) for lawyers rather than directly for HR professionals. “It’s like using a forklift when all you really wanted was a cart,” he says.

Richards himself has had a first-hand taste of what it’s like to go through immigration hoops. He is the son of a U.K. national father and Indonesian mother. His father was an executive in the hotel industry, so his family moved to a number of different countries as Richards grew up. “He’s a great example of the person we want to enable,” he says. “We have all these expats working everywhere, and every time you need to move somewhere you need to go through this process. It’s time someone enabled a world without borders for work.”

Richards himself has studied in a number of countries and holds qualifications to practice law in New York. (He’s in the U.S. on an E-3 visa for Australians.) While originally Teleborder was accepted to the YC program as a one-stop SaaS platform for all kinds of legal services, he and his co-founders (Michael Smith, Michael Hendrickx and Ikhsan Maulana — all also from outside the U.S.) all decided to narrow the focus for now, and given their collective backgrounds — and the pressing nature of this issue in particular in the tech industry — work visas was the direction they decided to take their business.

Beyond helping to manage active work permit applications, Teleborder has come up with some services that extend the product beyond those peaks: Businesses are able to enter the details of employees who already have temporary permits, and then Teleborder will track those on a calendar and remind HR of when they are about to expire. All of this sits alongside existing applications in an all-in-one dashboard so that HR can track everything in a single place.

As for pricing, Richards says that using Teleborder is free for those who are using it to track visa expirations for existing employees. The charges kick in once Teleborder starts helping you to compile an application, say for an H-1B visa. He says that based on the type of visa that is being applied for, the price can be between $5,000 and $10,000, which includes not just using Teleborder’s software platform, but also a look-over by immigration lawyers for a final check.

Richards says that this pricing, in fact, can be a 15 percent to 25 percent premium on companies electing to do this themselves, but less expensive than hiring a legal firm. Most importantly, it’s time-saving (up to 80 percent less time on applications, Teleborder has found), and helps avoid what he describes as “the highest level of distraction.”

Longer term, Teleborder has ambitions to take their software platform and make it usable outside the U.S. to tap into the wider movement of people to jobs worldwide. “We make it easy to bring a programmer from India to Dublin, Calif., but we also want to make it easy also for that same person to get to Dublin, Ireland. We want to be the main HR system for all visa-related employee management. Right now immigration is a political issue, and banking is a process, but if you focus just on the exchange of information, it doesn’t have to be.”