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Certified translation is surely essential when it comes to immigration documents

2 articles examine the recent use of Google Translate etc. by US immigration officials. We'd argue that a certified translation service would be much more appropriate.

We have seen in the media recently that the use of Google Translate in decision-making with regards migration matters is not necessarily the best utilisation of this - in many ways fabulous - tool. Surely a properly trained certified translator should be used in these cases. When would their expertise ever be more suitable?

Accurately translating documents relating to migration issues by automatic means is a strong challenge for Google and other technology companies, and questions have been raised about their effectiveness for carrying out such complex tasks.

So, getting to specifics, it has been recently reported that U.S. immigration officials have been using Google Translate in order to make decisions about whether refugees and other migrants will be allowed in the country.

This episode is the latest in the high-profile and long-running saga of Donald Trump and Latin American immigration. This particular revelation is particularly controversial as it has shown, first of all, that the US government is obviously not taking this issue seriously, and secondly, because the technology company is having a significant and negative influence on migration procedures.

Leaked documents obtained by the International Refugee Assistance Project, demonstrate how the translation platform is used by immigration official in order to translate posts from social media publications in order to gather evidence for decision-making on the cases of migrants they review.

The details appearing in the documents explaining how Google is influencing the acceptance or rejection of people who enter the United States, reveal that instructions are given to officials in a manual written by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which states that the most practical way to translate content to analyse the profiles of immigrants is to use the translation services of Google, Yahoo, Bing, among other search engines.

So far neither Google nor any of the other companies have offered statements on their seeming evolution from, albeit huge, technology companies to extensions of government offices that are deciding which migrant have the right or wrong profiles. This lack of information means we must ourselves question how it is that these common and free tools have come to be the ones being used for highly complex tasks. Surely a qualified, human and certified translation service is the only correct one to be used in such important circumstances.

The fact that a tool like the Google translate is being used as a filter to decide who enters the United States or not is really worrying, not only because of the questions about whether it is an imprecise platform or not, but also in understanding whether these companies are really innovative and how necessary it is to establish ethical bases and more precise operating processes that provide these tools with greater precision.

Certified translators are trained to do exactly the job that is being done in this case by a far-from perfect translation technology. Humans, of cause, are not perfect either, but surely in this case a qualified translator would be a much safer bet. There are many very highly qualified certified translators in the United States that could be used for this purpose, it seems crazy that an organisation as important as the US government itself should rely on these free platforms.


The U.S. government has decided that the Google Translate service is good enough to examine the accounts of refugees and migrants on social networks who wish to enter the country, according to a new ProPública report.

A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) handbook obtained by the International Refugee Assistance Project advises officials that "the most efficient approach to translating content into foreign languages is to use one of the many free online language translation services provided by Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines.”

According to ProPública, officials are being instructed to use these automatic translation tools as a means of examining the social networks of refugees or migrants and deciding whether they may stay or if they should be expelled.

Last month, a Harvard student, Ismail Ajjawi, was denied entry into the United States after a Customs and Border Protection official discovered that his social networking friends posted on his account: "political views that oppose those of the United States.”

The experts interviewed by ProPublica pointed out certain informal phrases as examples of parts of the English language that machine translations could potentially stumble over, since they generally perform better with formal texts.

Google itself points out, with respect to its service, that while "reasonable efforts have been made to provide an accurate translation (...) no machine translation is perfect nor is it intended to replace human translators.” We would go further and argue that in such important cases as these, a certified translation service should be used to ensure absolute accuracy.

A relevant example of the limitations of machine translation was a 2018 case, where a judge ruled that Google Translate was not a sufficient means to obtain consent for a police search of an individual.

Even more worrisome is that in early September it was reported that the Department of Homeland Security plans to intensify its policies of detecting and reviewing social networks for people entering the country and detecting whether they pose a threat to national security.


Our own view on the topic of these two articles is that, in fairness to the migrants who have made their often dangerous way to the United States, and in recognition of the experience and skills of those trained to carry out accurate certified translation services, we request that automatic translation not be used for such important procedures. The US government could easily employ the certified translation services of members of, for example, the American Translators Association. We suggest they get in touch with some of their members.

If you need a certified translation for your own immigration requirements, or for any other reason, just get in touch for the guaranteed cheapest service around. As ever, thanks for reading.

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