Leveraging Facebook to Deliver Real-time Immigration Information

Demonstrating the power of chatbots for immigrants in the Dominican Republic

There are over 1 million Haitian immigrants and people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic (DR).¹ Recent changes to immigration law and the current social and political climate in the country have resulted in active deportations and discrimination.²

Immigrants in the DR face systemic and behavioral barriers to accessing reliable information. Changes to immigration policy often go unpublicized or are in legalese. People are often afraid to seek out immigration advice from government sources because they worry they will be deported or penalized. If they do go to government offices, they can incur significant travel expense and time away from work, sometimes spending hours — even days — waiting in lines.

Intervention

Based on the need for a trustworthy and accessible source for information about immigration questions, we created a service called Aliados (Spanish for “Allies”). Aliados is composed of four components:

  1. Easy to understand information for people with low-literacy offered in Spanish and Haitian Kreyol.
  2. Centralized, updated and reliable news related to policies, and what steps to take regarding the most common immigration issues.
  3. A semi-automated question and answer service (“chatbot”) that provides advice and information in real-time, 24 hours per day.
  4. A Facebook page for updates tailored to the needs of people of Haitian descent, the largest migrant group in the DR.

The Facebook page disseminates information and allows users to interact, support, and advise one another.

Process

We piloted Aliados following ethnographic research in the DR in order to evaluate the effectiveness — and cost-effectiveness — of reaching undocumented immigrants via Facebook, identify key information that immigrants sought, and test low-literacy methods for effective communication.

The current version of Aliados provides information to help immigrants navigate: new changes to residency requirements, ID cards, passports, birth certificates, and visas.

Results

During our month-long pilot period, Aliados:

  • Provided answers to questions from more than 10,500 unique Facebook users in Spanish and Kreyol.
  • Received more than 2,500 likes on the Aliados Facebook page.
  • Reached tens of thousands of immigrants with outbound educational content; for example, a Facebook post providing a Kreyol translation of an announcement from the Department of Migration was seen by 4,399 people (at no cost).

Facebook is a remarkably effective channel for communicating with undocumented immigrant populations. Many people regularly connect to public WiFi to check Facebook or have free data access through Facebook Lite. Indeed, Facebook is considered a source for news among immigrants. Finding and communicating with people on Facebook is significantly more cost effective than traditional in-person interventions. Our advertising cost for each new, unique user was $0.03, and we believe we can get this even lower.

Roadmap

This work was made possible by a grant from the Digital Financial Services Lab, a grantee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

We are eager to expand and improve our question and answer service, as well as find, filter, and disseminate the most up-to-date information to users, and integrate automated chat capabilities that will allow us to serve tens of thousands of people at very low operating cost. Among potential next steps, we would love to:

  • Create a searchable repository of up-to-date immigration information across a range of immigrant statuses. We would like to work with an immigration attorney (on an as needed basis) to guarantee content quality
    and accurate translation of legal terminology.
  • Publish engaging educational content on highly salient issues affecting migrants in the DR, free of charge. This includes news, navigation (e.g., “How to call Migracíon and speak to someone”), advice, and testimonials
    to increase people’s perception of self-efficacy.
  • Increase the number of people that we serve using targeted advertising.
  • Explore new features, including automated audio responses for users who send us audio messages (in place of text).
  • Develop monitoring and evaluation tools to measure impact.
  • Standardize an information, technology, and awareness toolkit in order to launch Aliados in a second country with an immigrant population facing similar challenges to those in the DR.

Ker-twang builds high-quality services for low-income people. We are looking for funding partners, in-country legal advisors, and collaborators. To reach out, send a note to nate@ker-twang.com.