DIPLOMAT INTERVIEW: VFS Global
As borders reopen, Head of Business Development at VFS Global Chris Dix discusses their work in helping 64 governments with their visa, passport and consular services in 144 countries, during a global health pandemic
- How can the 180-plus governments represented in London (via embassies and high commissions) benefit from VFS Global’s visa processing services?
In the UK and across Europe, we serve 26 client governments. As the world’s largest and most experienced visa, passport and consular services outsourcing company, VFS Global provides a wide range of services for governments and diplomatic missions. We manage all the non-judgmental aspects of the visa process, and allow governments to focus solely on the decision-making aspect of the process.
In fact, what was an unheard-of concept of visa process outsourcing less than two decades ago, has now become the norm simply because of the many benefits it has afforded governments, in terms of effective management of application volumes, as well as conveniences for customers. Indeed, the growth has been commensurate to the benefit, with VFS Global managing visa applications from one client government 19 years ago, to today when we are proud to serve 64 client governments in 144 countries across the globe.
In the age of Covid-19 and physical distancing, our wide range of consular services are currently proving very useful for our customers. These services assist citizens living abroad and can range from passport and National ID card issuance and renewal, to document legalisation, birth, death, and marriage registration. Currently, we deliver passport and consular services for 10 client governments in 29 countries through 90 centres, with more locations opening soon.
Our aim is to help governments to deliver safe, high-quality services to their citizens in a hassle-free and convenient manner, wherever they are in the world. With this in mind, another new service we are offering is ‘Passport Collection’ where applicants can choose to collect their new passport from any one of VFS Global’s large network of centres instead of them visiting the embassy again, something being offered at present for Austria, Ireland and Portugal passport customers in the United Arab Emirates.
- What is VFS Global doing to enable and facilitate international travel during the Covid-19 health pandemic?
We believe that an integrated Covid-19 testing solution can become a catalyst in the recovery process for international travel by providing an assurance to destination countries, airlines and travellers and by becoming a major risk-mitigator. As borders re-open, some countries have already made testing a mandatory requirement.
We have been excited to recently announce the launch of our appointment booking system for Covid-19 PCR and antibody tests in partnership with local certified laboratories. VFS Global provides the appointment booking system; trained medical professionals conduct the tests, with results sent directly by the partnered laboratory to the customer’s registered address.
So far, the appointment booking services for Covid-19 PCR and antibody testing have been rolled out in Australia, Austria, Belarus, China, Egypt, France, India, Indonesia, Ghana, Jordan, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland, Malaysia, Netherlands, Philippines, Senegal, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, UK and the US in association with local certified laboratories.
- What health and safety measures has VFS Global taken in 2020 in order to accelerate the return of international travel?
We are very mindful that in the age of Covid-19, health considerations take priority at every stage. From a Visa Application Centre, to being on the plane and sightseeing at a destination, people need the assurance of safety measures throughout their journey.
At every step of the visa process, we are providing that assurance to our visa customers and client governments. We have established standardised protective measures across our Visa Application Centres. All our centres have implemented a mandatory appointment system, alongside physical distancing measures, disinfecting surfaces, regular hand washing and checking body temperature on arrival subject to local authority guidelines.
We have also set up a special Covid-19 ‘Customer Advisories’ page on our website (www.vfsglobal.com/Covid-19) with detailed FAQs for the travel trade and customers to answer any queries they might have and to keep them updated on operational aspects of the visa process.
- Can you tell us about your work with the UK government?
VFS Global has been serving the UK government since 2003 managing visa application services in over 50 countries. In fact, our very first global rollout was for the UK in 2007, when, from operating in 11 countries, we had to expand operations to 33 countries across seven regions, in a matter of months. It was a game-changer in a sense for us, and once rolled out successfully, it allowed us to display our capability worldwide.
Most of our innovative services, such as the ‘doorstep’ On Demand Mobile Visa service and many others, were originally introduced for the UK, keeping convenience for customers at the front and centre of the visa process. We are grateful to UK Visas and Immigration, for their commitment to roll out tech-driven innovations across geographies, something we extend to all client governments, as we adapt to the changing requirements of different visa regimes.
- How can VFS Global help balance the importance of border controls with customer-friendly entry requirements?
Border control policies are obviously not something that we get involved in. However, we are constantly looking to identify innovative solutions to make the visa application process as straightforward as possible. For example, our exclusive electronic visa on arrival (eVOA) digital service, which is operational for visitors to Thailand and Suriname, has been a huge success by enabling faster and smoother clearance process and customer-friendly service on arrival at airport immigration.
- What arrangements has VFS Global made for when the UK fully leaves the EU?
We strictly abide by the directives from the client governments we serve and will implement any changes in visa requirements based on their instructions. If there are any changes in visa process required by any client government, we will implement the necessary measures and ensure these changes are reflected on our websites and other key customer and partner touchpoints, so that all those who need to be are fully aware of the latest requirements.
- Could you explain to our readers about VFS Global’s most innovative solutions?
We believe that demand for innovative solutions will intensify in a post-COVID world, and we are addressing this need proactively. For instance, customers who wish to apply remotely can use our optional and highly popular ‘Visa At Your Doorstep’ service. Trained VFS Global staff will visit the customer’s location of choice (home, office, etc.) to complete the visa application submission process and/or biometric enrolment if needed, while maintaining necessary health precautions.
Last year, we introduced new technology to help visa applicants with typically long application forms, piloting the first-of-its-kind, machine learning-enabled data extraction feature that identifies specific data points from various documents and auto-populates the visa application form. This is effective in cutting the time required to complete the form by more than 50 per cent. In addition, we will soon launch digital pre-check options, allowing our customers to share their application with an experienced officer who will pre-check for correctness and completeness before submission.
We also launched ViVA, a visa service chatbot, to provide highly nuanced responses to customer queries. The chatbot technology is advanced enough to think two steps ahead of the customer – if a customer is trying to track their visa application, for instance, the chatbot can not only give them a status update, but also provide additional information, including pick-up or courier delivery options.
At VFS Global, we pride ourselves on our advanced technology solutions. The downturn in the travel market this year because of Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to invest even more resources into digitisation and we have taken full advantage of this. We are confident that we are ready to meet the expectations of our client governments and customers to provide them with the full range of high-quality visa, passport and consular services.
VFS Global launches Lithuanian Passport and ID Application Centre in the UK
- Lithuanian citizens living in the UK can now apply for their passports or IDs at VFS Global
- Passport centres in London and Edinburgh will manage processing of Lithuanian passport and ID card applications
- The Republic of Lithuania is the second Schengen government for which VFS Global offers passport and ID card services
VFS Global has launched these Lithuanian Passport and ID Application centres as an extension to its visa application services, on behalf of the the Lithuanian government.
Key services delivered are:
- Passport Application processing for Adults (Renewal)
- Passport Application processing for Minors (New & Renewal)
- ID Card Application processing for Adults (Renewal)
- ID Card Application processing for Minors (New & Renewal)
Key benefits for applicants:
- Operating times in London (0900 hrs to 1600hrs) and (0900 hrs to 1700hrs) in Edinburgh
- Dedicated courier service for processed passports
- Application tracking facility from the time the application is submitted
- Dedicated email for applicant queries
- Next day appointments available
VFS Global has been serving the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania worldwide since 2013 through a network of 141 Visa Application Centres in 17 countries.
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