Venetia van Kuffeler talks with VFS Global’s COO of Europe Anirudh Singhon how embassies can benefit from modern visa processing services, increase tourism and trade and enhance their country’s reputation
VFS GLOBALis the world’s leading outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide. The company manages non-judgmental and administrative tasks related to applications for visa, passport, identity and citizen services for its client governments, enabling them to focus entirely on the critical task of assessment.
With 2,612 application centres and operations in 139 countries across five continents, VFS Global serves the interests of 59 client governments. The company has successfully processed over 170 million applications since its inception in 2001, and over 62 million biometric enrolments since 2007. The Duchess of Sussex even came to their offices in Chicago to apply for her visa ahead of her move to the UK.
HOW CAN THE 180-PLUS GOVERNMENTS REPRESENTED IN IN LONDON VIA EMBASSIES AND HIGH COMMISSIONS BENEFIT FROM VFS GLOBAL’S MODERN VISA PROCESSING SERVICES?
These 180-plus countries have at least 20 different shades of requirements, which all require different solutions. Some missions are dependent on biometric processes, some aren’t. Others have vast diasporas. So, the flavours amongst the requirements are quite diverse, and we have to establish many different solutions. Missions have found the need to outsource to VFS Global, in order to quickly adjust to the implications of world events, work faster and be more efficient.
Let’s use the US Embassy in London as an example, which is likely to have representatives in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Manchester. But that still leaves much of the UK without an office, meaning people have to travel a long way to provide the biometrics required for travel to the US. So, imagine this challenge in huge countries like Russia or China.
VFS can open an office to help make important decisions regarding security, databases and creating a positive and convenient environment for people to visit you. We can provide immense help in terms of convenience, efficiency and cost. Ultimately, streamlining the various visa processing services can attract more visitors to the country in the long run.
WHAT BEGAN AS A BASIC VISA PROCESSING FACILITY HAS NOW DEVELOPED INTO A MORE ADVANCED, CUSTOMER-CENTRIC SERVICE THAT EMBASSIES AND HIGH COMMISSIONS DIDN’T HAVE THE CAPACITY TO PROVIDE. CAN YOU EXPLAIN MORE?
VFS Global started in 2001 as a concept for the US Consulate in Mumbai, as they didn’t have a lot of space, but had a large number of visitors. We realised that about 70 per cent of the work could be done outside the building, so they required a holding area to manage and assist these people in the application process.
We saw there was a need, so we started looking at the process. Applying for a visa can be quite cumbersome: finding and completing the relevant documents, paying a fee, and giving the documents to the consulate officer and then receiving the results. Seventy per cent of activity can be done outside the embassy. But this can so often go wrong, and the whole process must be started again.
We discovered there was a huge requirement for our work, which then snowballed. The diplomatic fraternity is obviously tightknit with people constantly moving all around the world, which works in our favour. Fortunately, people have had good experiences with our company. Slowly, VFS started working for the British in 2005 (we were covering all their missions by 2007), then the Canadians, French and Italians in 2007, and so on.
As a company, we work on the directives of our clients. We have no hand in the decision-making, VFS just helps with the transaction between the client and embassy or high commission, making it as convenient as possible.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK WITH THE UK GOVERNMENT?
We have been working with the British government since 2005. So many visitors want to come to the UK, but the government is very serious about protecting its borders and so it put a biometrics system in place. At the end of the day, a country like the UK will not compromise on its security, so VFS Global works on providing any kind of logical convenience.
Today, we also help British nationals abroad to apply for passports and help them conduct video interviews. Government officers have to interview each person who applies for asylum. So, we have established a video interviewing network all across the world linked to a centre in Sheffield.
HOW MANY MISSIONS IS VFS WORKING WITH THAT ARE BASED IN THE UK?
VFS is currently working with 22 governments here in the UK. Just recently, we started working with the Cyprus High Commission in May.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT VFS’S PREMIUM SERVICES ARE?
Before the travel experience used to start at the airport, and now we say it starts from the moment you decide to travel to that country. Whether you are a diplomat, government minister, business executive, footballer or film star, VFS can schedule a visit to your home, and help you complete the paperwork. Alternatively, there are private lounges you can visit, like the platinum lounges in the UAE, which are ideal for large families. Services are now available over the weekends, and we even have a 24-hour visa centre near Delhi Airport. These services are essential when people are unable to plan ahead. In every walk of life, people get used to certain customer service, and in this industry, it’s no different.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW VFS HAS BEEN HELPING THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT WITH THE FIFA WORLD CUP 2018?
VFS received the FIFA Fan IDs from the Russian government, and our job has been to distribute them to ticket holders all over the globe. The Fan ID allows access to Russia, instead of a visa. It’s been a huge exercise in terms of logistics. But people are passionate about football, so it’s been good to be involved in this happy moment.
HOW CAN VFS ADDRESS THE QUANDARY OF THE IMPORTANCE OF BORDER CONTROLS WITH CUSTOMER-FRIENDLY ENTRY REQUIREMENTS?
To be clear, entry requirements are not defined by us. But once the requirements are formed, VFS works with the government or embassy on how we take care of those customs requirements. For example, if biometrics are required, we plan what must be done – should the network be increased, or are online forms required? For example, we are working with Dubai Visa in the United Arab Emirates, where the whole visa process is done online.
PRESUMABLY BREXIT COULD PROVIDE ENORMOUS OPPORTUNITIES FOR VFS GLOBAL. WHAT ARRANGEMENTS HAS THE COMPANY MADE FOR WHEN BRITAIN LEAVES THE EU?
It’s difficult to answer right now as obviously we don’t know what is going to happen. But as a company, we can speculate, and have different solutions in place for the various scenarios. We are well-prepared to step in and have vast experience dealing with huge capacities.
IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO HEAR ABOUT VFS GLOBAL’S MOST INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS?
Earlier this year, we launched a Mobile Visa Application Centre for UK visa applicants in Bangkok. The customised mobile facility is equipped with end-to-end technology to enrol biometrics and accept visa applications remotely from any location.