Five years ago, I moved back to the US for college. At Olin College of Engineering, finding an internship became difficult. Many companies turned me away at career fairs for being an international student. For a full time job, Ford had to evaluate the extra cost of my H1B visa.
While Ford applied for my H1-B, I was also renewing my student visa. Handling immigration paperwork and procedures were anxious times. I had to watch deadlines, plan applications months in advance, and just wait.
Collating and mailing documents wasn’t difficult. But after submission, months of waiting also meant things weren’t on the top of my head. Suddenly an alert appears from USCIS (the immigration body) urgently asking for documentation. Or an immigration decision is published and I miss it if I’m not watching the news.
I wanted a reminder service for deadlines and decision dates. Tell me when things are due and when I get an answer from USCIS. Taking it further, what if I can get a roadmap of what’s to come? As a student I can input a graduation date and get a journey through upcoming applications, deadlines, and checkpoints. It can come with official government links and personal experiences from other students who’ve been through the process.
Starting with this idea, I spoke to some friends in the same situation as me - international, undergraduate, and looking for a way through the immigration system. I had to understand if they faced similar problems while applying for legal working status in the US.
I spoke to some of my friends applying for an H1-B visa and some who already got one. Below are the questions I asked over Messenger in September 2014. I followed this by synthesizing answers and looking for patterns.
Over the course of 2 weeks, I received responses from 9 of 13 friends I contacted. Here are the top results from the chats I had with my friends.
Issues faced when maintaining visa status
Feelings during a visa application process
My friends expressed worry and fear around the ambiguous nature of applying for a visa. They would like to understand what experiences have worked/not worked for others to make educated guesses for themselves.
I think Alienship should showcase the experiences of others and the do’s/don’ts of people who have been through the experience. In addition, the timeline and reminders can get added on as a functionality to help someone in the filing process.
Alienship can extend from applying to an H1-B visa or extending a F-1 student visa to be about all kinds of visas. Tourist visas to different countries, intra-company L1 visas, and so on. People sharing their experiences and helping each other out with visa issues
If a user were to have a great experience with Alienship, here's how the happy path would look.
I started with sketches to design a high-level perspective, to draw out the information architecture for this feature. What would a process look like when you step in and out of it? What happens when you get into the details and zoom back out? I wanted to understand the major interaction model(s) first. I did some sketching by hand, and below you'll see a few Balsamiq mockups showing my thoughts.
The next steps to Alienship are two-fold: create a prototype and gather content. The first version of Alienship can be the simple timeline and reminder tool to help a student get through their student visa and H1-B filing process. Over time, different milestones can be populated with first-hand stories of people who want to share their experiences. Hopefully, a user of Alienship will find security and comfort in the stories of others facing the same challenges.