Transforming Migration Law through AI

Christine Chan – Chinese University of Hong Kong

-- My recent paper, “Digital Assistant and beyond: Transforming Migration Law through AI”, examines the strengths and constraints of the Digital Assistant chatbot in facilitating access to immigration information, especially given the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19 and the proliferation of Self-represented Applicants (SRA). It explores how Digital Assistant could leverage AI technologies to promote accessibility and usability. Looking ahead, it also considers how Digital Assistant could go beyond providing information per se to become an information exchange platform for the immigration authority, prospective visa applicants and migration service providers.

Growing migration interest and service disruption caused by COVID-19 have provided strong impetus for the digitization and automation of Australian migration law. As the imperative to lure high calibre migrants gains momentum, there has been an upsurge in migration enquiries and applications, most notably from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Hong Kong. At the same time, the Coronavirus has posed challenges on client service delivery. As clients increasingly resort to self-help in exploring migration options, this has led to a burgeoning class of SRA, and a parallel increase in e-lodged applications. Confronted with the need to provide timely and adequate information to a growing pool of applicants under diminished client service resources, this has prompted the immigration authority to embrace the automation of its visa guidance functionality.

Deployed on the Home Affairs website, the Digital Assistant chatbot is not just a tool for navigating disparate migration websites and legal databases. It enables the immigration authority to build rapport with a growing pool of applicants from across the globe. It allows clients to acquire immigration information in a contactless, expeditious and interactive manner from the comfort of one’s home. It espouses the Digital Transformation Strategy and bolsters the agility of the immigration authority, especially when traditional modes of client service are being undermined by the pandemic.

Nonetheless, as Digital Assistant attempts to present complex visa categories and legislative requirements as simple responses on its conversational interface, coupled with the SRA’s possible misconception as to the quasi-legal nature of the advice, this may contribute to information asymmetry between the upstream pre-lodgement enquiry (over-simplification) and downstream decision-making stage (information overload). As SRA prepare application documents based on the general advice provided by Digital Assistant, their submissions could either be too brief (omission of core documentation) or too lengthy (inclusion of irrelevant documentation). The problem could be exacerbated by the physical storage of paper-based application files, and the processing delay caused by delivery of supporting documents from the client’s end. Besides, as SRA may not be familiar with visa requirements and legal terminology, additional resources may be required to explain information requests and application procedures, and to manage clients’ expectations in the event of visa refusals.

In order to address the information asymmetry, Digital Assistant could encourage public uptake and provide customized advice by leveraging AI technologies, including Machine-learning and Predictive Analytics. Digital Assistant could establish a human-centric user interface and personalized communicative network through “Natural Language Processing”. It could devise programmatic EOI (Expression of Interest) visa questionnaires which aligns the personal profile of SRA with the visa criteria to obtain more objective and reliable responses. By analysing the EOI responses through Supervised Machine Learning and Predictive Analytics, Digital Assistant could gauge the preliminary visa eligibility of prospective applicants and discover potential information gaps. Big-Data technologies, private blockchains and cryptographic technologies could be used to secure the EOI responses, with the aim of protecting the confidentiality of the personal data, while ensuring ease of accessibility by the migration authority on a need-to-know basis.

Looking ahead, Digital Assistant could serve as an Information Exchange Platform for the immigration authority, visa applicants and migration service providers. It could foster integration between visa applicants and public authorities by providing an online forum for policy deliberation and public resource allocation. It could be developed into a programmatic match making platform between prospective applicants, migration agents and ancillary service providers. Through these endeavours, Digital Assistant could introduce new participants and liberalise the conventional field of migration law-making and migration service provision. To enable Digital Assistant to realize these potentials and enhance its sustainability, this requires the concerted effort of the migration authority, prospective applicants and migration service providers.

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