When Union Square Ventures, the New York-based investment firm, first got in touch with Jobbatical cofounder Karoli Hindriks via Twitter, she didn’t notice their message for two weeks. 

Still, there were no hard feelings; four years, several funding rounds, one major pivot and one global crisis later, they’re leading a further €2.6m round into the talent relocation startup. 

With airports closed around the world, it isn’t exactly an ideal time for a company that relies on the free movement of people to be raising capital (and Jobbatical has raised a smaller round than initially planned as a result) — but Hindriks’ vision for the future of immigration is a long-term one.

Today, Jobbatical is also announcing a new partnership with the Berlin Immigration Authorities , which will help it fast-track immigration applications through the system. That will turn a process that usually takes 90 days into one that takes three to five. 

It’s also a hint of where Jobbatical could head in the future, Hindriks hopes: turning immigration — currently a massive pain in the ass for employers, government agencies and citizens — into a seamless operation. 

Employee relocation

When there’s not a pandemic raging, hundreds of thousands of people pack up their lives and move country for work every month. The global employee relocation management market was estimated to be worth $31.5bn in 2019, and it’s growing. In the EU, 1.8m first-time resident permits for employment were issued in 2018. 

High-growth companies like TransferWise, Babbel, Typeform and Twilio — all customers of Jobbatical — look beyond their home location for top talent, and relocate people every month. In some countries, for some positions, that process can be relatively speedy — a highly-skilled worker can relocate to Spain in just 20 days, for example. But for many other countries, it can be arduous — and that’s before the employee or the employer have even started thinking about finding somewhere to live, registering with the local healthcare system or enrolling their kids in schools. 

One fast-growing Finnish company, Hindriks says, hired a Turkish designer in April, and had still not managed to relocate them by October. Jobbatical wants to bring that time down to a month, maximum. 

“The talent shortage has never been as painful as it is today,” says Hindriks. Most European countries — including all four Nordic nations, Spain and the UK — report a tech talent shortage.

Paperwork purgatory

It costs around €1,000-1,500 to relocate somebody using Jobbatical’s platform — that’s about two or three times cheaper than on average in Europe, says Hindriks. 

Companies drop essential details about the people they’d like to relocate into the platform. Jobbatical then grabs the relevant information and fills out government forms — automating a process that takes a human seven hours and a computer three seconds. Employers can track the status of individual applications, while it’s also made clear to talent what they need to do, when. 

But not everything is quite that simple — yet. 

Aside from its new partnership in Berlin, Jobbatical doesn’t yet have a direct line to government systems. Although it can automate form-filling, the company often still has to print out those forms and take them to the immigration authority, for a clerk to then manually input that information into their system. 

What’s more, based on interviews with various embassies, Jobbatical estimates that employees at consulates spend around 30-40% of their time answering questions about the status of people’s visas.

That’s an enormously inefficient use of authorities’ time and money — as governments are starting to realise.

“The Berlin authorities reached out to us,” says Hindriks. “They invited us to present our tech, and from there we started collaboration discussions. That got accelerated when the crisis happened.” 

Jobbatical is also in ongoing discussions with government authorities in Estonia and Finland to set up similar partnerships. 

“I do think and hope that this crisis will push governments to think more of digitalisation and optimisation,” says Hindriks. 

The big vision

It’s still early days for Jobbatical 2.0. The company, founded in Estonia in 2014 as a recruitment platform for international talent, pivoted in July last year to focus solely on the relocation process. It has launched in three countries since then — Spain, Germany and Estonia — but has plans to launch in many more.

“We still have a long road map,” says Hindriks. 

If Jobbatical can land numerous government partnerships, it could also consider offering its services not just to businesses, but also to consumers looking to relocate. “The process in terms of immigration is not different whether purchased by a company or an individual,” says Hindriks. 

It could also radically change the whole user experience around immigrating. “You could choose countries based on where it’s faster [to move to], and initiate the process within minutes.” 

Governments, in turn, could decide which people are granted residency permits in a far more sophisticated way. “If you think about what a passport is today, you’re limited by whether you were born in Pakistan or the USA. That bucketing of people, based on passports, is not working,” says Hindriks — it doesn’t take into account many more relevant factors, such as how skilled somebody is. 

“Countries need new ways of identifying in which bucket people sit. We could help; we have the full data on the person — salary, family status etc.”

That sounds very ambitious, but Hindriks says with the new Berlin partnership “we’re one step towards that already”. 

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