Ben Ives started his business in a tiny basement apartment in Old Colorado City. After six months working 12 to 14 hours a day developing software to help people obtain visas to enter the United States, at 3 a.m. on one epic day, he hit the “enter” button on his computer to go live with his website.
Then Ives collapsed with exhaustion.
By the time he woke up, he had made his first sale.
Six years later, RapidVisa Inc. is estimated to make $3 million in sales.
RapidVisa is one of the first companies in the document preparation industry helping people apply for visas to enter the U.S. via technology.
First, the client fills out a thorough questionnaire for RapidVisa. The company then completes the application online for the client. Once the client pays the processing fees, they print the application and it’s sent to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. At that point, the INS begins its process.
“What you’re paying for is the document preparation,” said Kyle Marvin, marketing manager for RapidVisa. He emphasized RapidVisa does not offer legal advice.
How it works
Now with offices in China and the Philippines, RapidVisa mainly offers services for people wanting fiancée visas, for those entering the U.S. to marry a U.S. citizen. RapidVisa charges around $375, compared to between $2,000 and $5,000 for attorneys to help with the arduous paperwork. The immigration process also involves a federal filing fee of $340, a medical fee of approximately $200 and a visa fee for the embassy at $265, which totals around $1,180 for RapidVisa. Visas for children are extra.
In addition to the fiancée visas, RapidVisa also conducts document preparation for CR-1 and K-3 spousal visas, IR-5 parent visas, adjustment of status processing, removal of conditions and filing the paperwork for U.S. naturalization. Since it started, it has helped couples in 167 countries.
After the fiancée visa is issued and the couple gets married, they can apply for an adjustment of status. If granted, the immigrant receives a conditional green card, enabling him or her to remain in the U.S. legally.
Two years later, the immigrant and his or her new family can apply for the government to remove the conditions on the green card. If, after a substantial interview, the effort is successful, the U.S. government issues a permanent green card. At that point, the immigrant can apply to become a naturalized citizen.
Not everyone is pleased with the service — or the competition.
Like taxi drivers oppose Uber, and like the hotel industry might be hampered by AirBNB, RapidVisa has experienced pushback from the legal industry, Ives and Marvin said.
“They used to be able to charge exorbitant fees for something that wasn’t a legal service,” Marvin said. “They don’t like the competition, in the same way accountants probably don’t like TurboTax.”
The Southern Colorado office of the Better Business Bureau removed RapidVisa’s A-plus rating after receiving a complaint. When the BBB investigated, “we got it straightened out,” Ives said.
At one point, a Colorado attorney complained to the state supreme court attorney regulation counsel. In a Sept. 2 letter, that agency responded, “We conclude that Rapid Visa (sic) is not engaging in the unauthorized practice of law through its operation www.rapidvisa.com. As a result, the … investigation is being dismissed.”
It started with Jocelyn
After four years in the U.S. Air Force, spending most of that stationed in Germany, Ives used the GI Bill to earn a degree in computer science from the University of North Texas.
Ives worked as a software developer during the day. Single, he spent much of his off-time gaming online. That’s where he met Jocelyn, a woman from the Philippines.
They talked online until he realized, “I’ve always traveled a lot, but I’d never been to Asia. So I went there,” he said.
“I did the paperwork manually, and then I set about writing the software.”
– Ben Ives
After meeting, they decided to marry, but Jocelyn would need a fiancée visa to enter the United States to be married. But the process wasn’t easy.
“I couldn’t find any way to do it online,” he said. “I did the paperwork manually, and then I set about writing the software.”
The paperwork is “tedious, and there’s piles of it. It’s not really rocket science, but it could be uncomfortable for some people,” Ives said. “You don’t need to go to the expense of hiring a lawyer. So I said, ‘For that class of people, there’s got to be a market for this.’”
He tucked away the idea, trademarked the name RapidVisa in 2006 and went to work full-time as a software developer for Blue Cross/Blue Shield in North Carolina. Newly married and using his spare time, he began writing the code for RapidVisa.
After a while he realized, “If I’m going to complete this program and really seriously launch this business, I really need to do this full-time. I resigned from a really good job … I realized I need to go all-in.”
The couple decided to move to Colorado, and first thought they’d live in Denver. After a visit, they decided on a smaller city. Now with an infant son, the family moved to El Paso County.
At the time the website went live, “we’d been living on savings for six months. It was scary,” Ives said.
“I know it’s almost cliché to say it, but without her [Jocelyn] to support me, we wouldn’t be here now.”
Year founded: 2010
Address: 720 Village Center Drive, rapidvisa.com, 208-7033