Thirteen years, three green card applications, and multiple near-ulcer experiences after entering the United States for college, Maneesha Mukhi, '09, finally gained permanent US resident status. It was an eye-opening experience for Mukhi—the process had included several different visas, many transfers, and the constant looming threat of losing her status.
"I realized that there was a big hole: immigration information online was sparse and often inaccurate. Government sites were hard to decipher—they are not written for the average human, and I couldn't find a reliable way to find an attorney," said Mukhi. So as soon as her green card status was secured, she was determined to help pave the way for others.
The daughter of an Indian diplomat, Mukhi was born in France and moved every three years until she started college. She loved experiencing new cultures everywhere she landed—but from a young age, she planned to make it to the United States.
"You could do anything there. You could be anything there," she said.
Mukhi wanted to work in marketing, but knew that it would be difficult to get a work (H-1B) visa through a marketing job. So in college, she studied economics and business management, minoring in French.
After college, Mukhi worked as an investment analyst for two years, then spent a year in corporate strategy. Finally, she enrolled at Booth—but only part-time. Mukhi was already on an H-1B work visa, and she was worried that if she gave it up, she wouldn't be able to get sponsorship for a new one after she graduated.
As soon as she finished her degree and finally got her green card, Mukhi was determined to help other immigrants navigating paths similar to her own. She starting working for a nonprofit that assisted South Asian immigrants dealing with domestic violence. They needed help with safety planning, accessing social services, and navigating family court systems. But one of their biggest needs was finding a good immigration lawyer, which gave Mukhi her big idea.
Maneesha Mukhi, ’09
In 2016 she launched the site that would become AskEllis.com to help people in and out of the United States with matters such as green card applications, naturalization, work visas, and more. It includes a blog that offers essential information about immigration and answers questions such as: "Can I switch jobs during the green card process?" But most crucially, the site curates a small network of experienced immigration lawyers to help make at least one part of the immigration process easier. All of the attorneys are screened and have at least five years of experience. Many are specialists (in fields such as startups, asylum and refugees, employment, removal and deportation, and more). The name, Ask Ellis, references Ellis Island: the symbol of the American dream.
Mukhi explained that finding the right immigration lawyer has never been more important. Immigration rules are changing at lightning speed, and the system has become increasingly unforgiving of paperwork errors. It requires a lot of patience and perseverance to stay in the United States, and the lawyers can help with this, Mukhi said.
Ask Ellis has seen double-digit growth in clients over the two years it's been active. So far, the site has 20 New York–based lawyers, as well as partnerships with other attorneys throughout the United States.
When prospective clients reach out, Mukhi said, often the content on the site is enough to answer their questions. But if not, she tries to find them a good match with a lawyer who can help them settle in. She's now comfortably settled in the United States, and she wants to help others navigate the system so that they can stay as well.
"It's the American dream," she said.
—By Danielle Braff