Messenger ChatBot Helps Refugees Seek Asylum in Canada, U.S.

Today, Donald Trump signed off on a new executive order that forbids immigrants from six Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States, cutting Iraq from the last ban. It’s appropriate, then, that London-born Stanford University student Joshua Browder has developed a chatbot that aids immigrants in acquiring asylum.

Browder’s DoNotPay chatbot, which was originally created to help people fight parking fines (160,000 to date), has been recoded to help refugees claim asylum in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., reads a new report from The Guardian. The messaging platform uses an artificial intelligence lawyer to lend a hand to stranded refugees.

“There’s this huge problem among immigration lawyers where the majority of their time is spent filling out forms rather than actually challenging the legal complexities of the case, says Joshua Browder. “So what this does, it takes down hundreds of details from individuals and automatically fills out [the forms].”

The bot uses plain-language conversational English to ask the required questions, rather than the sometimes overly complicated language used in asylum applications. The answers are then used to auto-fill the correct asylum application, which is automatically filed on the refugee’s behalf.

Browder says this new functionality for his robot lawyer is “long overdue.” He told The Guardian: “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.”

He finally added, “That took months and months of work, but we wanted to make sure it was right.”

Lately, Canada has experienced illegal refugees walking across the Canada-US border, seeking asylum, in what many have observed as an exploitation of Canada’s safe-third-country rule with the U.S. The rule says refugees are required to stay in the first safe country they land–unless they arrive via an illegal crossing to Canada.