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New Website Offers Immigrants What “TurboTax” Does For People Navigating IRS Rules

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 16:  A Cuban immigrant prepares to become an American citizen at a naturalization ceremony on August 16, 2013 in New York City. Some 154 immigrants from 58 countries became American citizens at the ceremony held by the U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Servics (USCIS) in downtown Manhattan.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 16: A Cuban immigrant prepares to become an American citizen at a naturalization ceremony on August 16, 2013 in New York City. Some 154 immigrants from 58 countries became American citizens at the ceremony held by the U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Servics (USCIS) in downtown Manhattan. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

South Florida native and former White House fellow Felice Gorordo wants his new tech startup to become like a “TurboTax” program for immigrants navigating the labyrinthine U.S. immigration benefits system.

Clearpath Inc. was founded by former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Chief Michael Petrucelli in 2009 as a private sector solution to simplify the United States’ complex visa application process. Like the online tax program TurboTax, users are guided through a website as they answer a series of questions to help them fill out their forms.

The cost per form, about $70 to $200, is generally cheaper than going to an attorney. Government fees are separate.

Gorordo said Clearpath seeks to provide a simple process for those with straightforward cases who are intimidated by the system, yet he is quick to note that people with complicated immigration situations should still seek professional legal advice. He said the Clearpath website repeatedly checks in with users to let them know if they should continue their application, and the company doesn’t charge until the forms are successfully submitted.

“The wizard-based system has more than 5,000 rules that check along the way to ensure that the user who is applying for the benefit is eligible for the benefit,” Gorordo said.

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The site refers users who don’t appear to be eligible for the application they are attempting to file – or whose application raises a red flag – to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the nation's largest group of professional immigration lawyers which advocates for comprehensive immigration reform, for further assistance.

Petrucelli said U.S. immigration forms can be confusing because they are not standardized and are sometimes written in awkward, government speak.Often applicants are asked similar questions in different ways. One mistake can lead to a delay in approval, or in worse case, a rejection of the application.

Clearpath timed its public rollout with the Obama administration’s deferred action program for youth living in the country illegally. The 2012 order allowed qualified youngsters to work or study in the U.S. for two years without fear of deportation, and with the possibility of a two-year extension.

But the Department of Homeland Security created the program only as a stopgap measure until Congress passed legislation to provide a long-term solution for this population. Clearpath is banking on broad congressional action on immigration reform, which could create millions of potential customers looking to adjust their status.

Gorordo has a history of working with youth and immigration-related issues. In addition to his time in the White House, he also worked for USCIS and co-founded a national non-profit organization that facilitates exchanges between and encourages the empowerment of Cuban-American students and youth in Cuba.

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