How Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain are set to transform the global immigration sector: The case of Migranet

Human migration can be traced back to the Paleolithic Era, when climate conditions and limited food supply gradually engendered the first ever large population displacements. Since then, international migration has been a recurrent and natural phenomenon throughout most regions of the world.

Today, there is an estimated 244 million international migrants (or 3.3% of the world’s population) globally, with the total number of permanent entries in OECD countries alone exceeding 5 million each year.

While migration only tends to attract global media attention in times of conflict and crisis, most recently during the so-called European refugee emergency in 2015 which witnessed the arrival of over one million migrants and asylum seekers from Africa, the above figures are indicative of both the historical nature and magnitude of international migration through all stages of human evolution.

Policy approaches to international migration and refugee affairs have only evolved in limited measure in recent decades. However, one notable development over the past couple of years has been the advent of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain and fintech, of which potential to disrupt the sector is only beginning to be recognized and exploited. While such technologies have been pervading most sectors of the developed countries’ economies since the mid-2010s, they are only starting to be envisioned in the field of migration, refugee and humanitarian affairs.

New technologies have the potential to impact a range of areas in the field of international migration, whether they relate to financial transfers, to the transparency, costs and efficiency of immigration and asylum application processes, or to the optimization of labor integration conditions.

To date, only a handful of initiatives aiming to apply new technologies in some of these areas have been put to the test.

For example, in the field of migrants’ remittances (a market estimated to be generating over $615 billion each year according to the World Bank), a growing number of ventures are being established to capitalize on the rise of mobile technology and fintech. In a survey conducted by Remitly among immigrants in the United States, 62 percent of the respondents indicated that they trusted mobile technology while 93 percent stated that they felt that financial and mobile technologies provided the services they needed. As was further stressed by Matt Oppenheimer from Remitly: “Historically, immigrant communities across the world have been overlooked and disadvantaged by traditional financial institutions and services. They have had to contend with extortionately high fees, little security, and limited access to the services they need to become financially stable in a new country”.

In Canada, the federal government launched in 2018 two pilot projects that make use of AI to process temporary resident visa applications from China and India. According to a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, the program will help process routine cases more efficiently and will help immigration officers deal with an ever-growing number of visitor visas from these countries. Other initiatives are being considered by the Canadian Government, jointly with the private sector, to develop additional pilot projects involving AI in other areas of immigration law.

In the humanitarian field, the European Commission, in partnership with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), launched in 2017 the Emergency Social Safety Net Programme (ESSN), which provides monthly cash assistance to vulnerable people under Temporary and International Protection in Turkey through the delivery of a debit card that builds partially on blockchain technology.

Also in the humanitarian field, an AI-based software was recently developed that will predict if a given country might face a crisis in the next five years that would lead to migration. The software will also point to possible remedies to an impending crisis, for example in the event of an imminent famine based on historic data and the climate change trajectory it will recommend alternate farming methods or alternate food sourcing that will cater to a changing climate.

An increasing number of initiatives are therefore being trialed to introduce AI and blockchain technology in the field of international migration. To date, however, these have only addressed specific components of migration policy and none of them has engaged into a more holistic approach to integrate all key elements of international and refugee policy into a single technological platform.

The concept of a one-stop shop is exactly what Migranet, a company established in 2018, has set out to develop for the benefit of the international community of migrants, immigration public officials and NGOs servicing refugees.

Migranet is today the first and only company that is in the process of offering an all-round set of AI and blockchain-based services to assist migrants and accredited migration practitioners with the processing of their migration applications. The company will also support refugees with their skills assessment, thus enabling adequate integration into their host countries post-selection.

Migranet, the final platform of which will be launched in the first quarter of 2021 (with Alpha and Beta versions scheduled for the first four months of 2020) will enable migrants to upload their professional credentials and background declaration during the application stage, prior to professional assessment. Their credentials and background declaration will then be stored on the blockchain while the built-in smart contracts will provide protection from fraud, malpractice and misrepresentation. Such unparalleled automation is expected to reduce the costs of traditional immigration services by up to 90%.

The Migranet platform will also auto-update regulations, policies and case laws that will assist both migrants and accredited migration practitioners during the application process.

One of the many pioneering features of Migranet is that it will enable prospective migrants to pre-select their preferred country of immigration based on their education, skills, cultural affinities, as well as those of their families. A machine learning prototype of this feature has been developed and tested in February 2019, with over 1,300 use cases running at an accuracy rate of 90%. The prototype currently offers a basic assessment for the skilled labor immigration class, which assesses applicants instantly and informs them within seconds if their application is likely to succeed or not.

As crucially, Migranet has introduced a unified cryptographic utility token, the MIG, that will be used for the payment of services on the platform in a fraud and corruption-free environment, as well as for investment purposes. MIGs can currently be purchased until August 15, 2019 on the iComplyICO platform. Furthermore, on May 16th, 2019, 10:00 am (UTC+8), IDAX will launch Migranet’s MIG tokens through an Initial Exchange Offering (IEO), which will enable participants to buy MIGs at a discounted rate.

Migranet therefore appears set to transform, if not revolutionize, most areas of current immigration services, both by increasing the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of said services, and by empowering would-be migrants through all key stages of their administrative journey.

In view of the interest and reactions Migranet has been generating over the past few months in the social media and specialized investors’ sites, it is now widely expected that such a disruptive initiative, which is supported by a team of 25 highly experienced professionals, will gradually induce some irreversible benefits for the administration of migration and refugee programs globally, and will remodel the way international mobility is approached by both prospective migrants and competent public administrations.

Solon Ardittis*

* Solon Ardittis is Chairman of Eurasylum, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) and Coeditor of Migration Policy Practice. He has been advising Migranet since 2018.