Refugees can use a chatbot on Facebook Messenger to help claim asylum advice
Facebook Messenger will host the ‘world’s first robot lawyer’ that has previously helped successfully overturn more than 160,000 parking fines.
The service can help refugees fill in an immigration application in the US and Canada and also offers asylum support in the UK.
It gives free legal aid to users through a simple interface and was created by London-born developer and Stanford student Joshua Browder.
It was originally launched as DoNotPay – a chatbot that helped tens of thousands successfully contest parking fights in the UK and US.
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It will be easier for applicants to submit their applications
Immigration lawyer Sophie Alcorn
Speaking to The Guardian, Mr Browder said: “I’ve been trying to launch this for about six months – I initially wanted to do it in the summer. But I wanted to make sure I got it right because it’s such a complicated issue.
“I kept showing it to lawyers throughout the process and I’d go back and tweak it.
“That took months and months of work, but we wanted to make sure it was right.”
Mr Browder began work on the project before Donald Trump’s shock victory in the US elections.
He said his work is now more important than ever with the new President looking to deport undocumented immigrants from the States.
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Mr Browder said: “I wanted to add Canada at the last minute because of the changes in the political background in the US.”
The developer said he chose Facebook Messenger as the home for his robot lawyer because of how accessible and readily available it is.
He said: “It works with almost every device, making it accessible to over a billion people.”
The chatbot works by offering users a series of questions which determine which application the refugee needs to fill out and if they’re eligible for asylum.
In the US and Canada it then takes down the necessary details required for the appropriate asylum applications.
In the US that’s an I-589 and in Canada it’s the Canadian Asylum Application.
Those in the UK are told they need to apply in person and the chatbot helps the refugee fill out an ASF1 form for asylum support.
In future Mr Browder hopes to expand the service – even possibly also offering it on the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging service.
The questions are asked in plain English and once the details are completed they are used to auto-fill an application form for either the US, Canada or UK.
The data is then destroyed from servers within 10 minutes of someone using the bot.
Mr Browder is currently working on making the service available in more languages, including Arabic.
Speaking to The Guardian, immigration lawyer Sophie Alcorn said: “It will be easier for applicants to submit their applications and it will empower legal aid organisations to assist a larger numbers of clients.
“Asylum seekers want to follow the laws and do everything properly, and this technology will help them do so.”
The chatbot was initially launched as a free service to guide people with parking fines through the appeals process.
It successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets across London and New York for free.