Interview with Jiten Vyas, Commercial Director of VFS Global, on how embassies can benefit from modern visa and passport processing services and improve their country’s reputation.
- What is your role at VFS Global?
I joined the company in 2003. I am the Commercial Director responsible for passport and consular services, eVisa services and other high growth businesses. Prior to that, I led VFS Global’s business operations in the Australasia, China, Africa, Europe and CIS regions, where I was responsible for business growth, building client-government relationships and managing the company’s extensive operations in these regions.
- What exactly does VFS Global do in the visa processing chain? What benefits and benefits can VFS Global services bring to governments represented in Washington through their Embassies and High Commissions?
We take care of almost all the non-critical and administrative part of the process – from the acceptance of the visa application to the return of the passport to the visa applicant after the decision-making process by the embassy or consulate. In between, we add services to enhance the overall candidate and government client experience. This includes appointment scheduling, application verification, database creation, fee collection, biometric enrollment, transmission of documents to Embassy/Consulate and courier return of documents to visa applicants. What was an unheard of visa process outsourcing concept less than two decades ago has now become the norm simply because of the many benefits it offers governments, e.g. reduced process complexity, reduced costs and improving the customer experience.
During the pandemic where physical distancing was required, our consular services offer proved to be very useful for clients. In fact, the pandemic has accelerated the trend of outsourcing passport and consular services, as governments seek to limit the number of people applying directly to their embassies and consulates. These services assist citizens living abroad and can range from issuing and renewing passports and national identity cards to legalizing documents, registering births, deaths and marriages.
We provide passport and consular services to 16 governments in 34 countries, operating 184 centers worldwide and are delighted to have processed over 3 million passport applications since we launched our passport business in 2008.
- What does VFS Global do in the United States?
Currently, we manage visa and passport services for 22 governments through a network of 19 application centers in 10 cities.
Last December, we were thrilled to open our first ever Filipino ePassport Renewal Center in Los Angeles for the convenience of Filipino nationals. This was done in an effort to facilitate the ePassport renewal process for over two million Filipinos living in the United States. So far, this service has been very successful.
We also operate passport application centers for the Government of Ghana in Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as the Government of the Netherlands in Chicago, to serve their citizens in the United States.
- Can you tell us about your work with the Indian government here?
VFS Global has been serving the Government of India since 2008. As a company with its origins in Mumbai, India, where the first VFS Global Application Center was established nearly two decades ago, it is a immense pride that in 2020, VFS Global has been awarded the contract to provide Visa, OCI, Passport and other consular services for India across the United States.
We operate India Consular Application Centers in six cities: Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston, providing services to over four million Indians in the Diaspora. We have successfully processed over 785,000 inquiries for the Indian Diaspora since we resumed service in November 2020.
In addition, VFS Global, the Embassy of India and local Indian Associations and Federations regularly organize consular camps to facilitate access to consular services for the Indian Diaspora in different locations in the United States. At these camps, clients can have their completed passport, OCI, waiver, police certificate, visa and GEP applications checked and submitted in person. So far, we have organized 14 consular camps in six cities, and five more camps are planned over the next three months.
- After a tough few years for the travel industry, how can VFS Global help get travel safely back on track?
We are very aware that during the pandemic, health considerations have been prioritized at every stage. We quickly implemented standardized protective measures in our visa application centres. We have implemented a mandatory appointment system, as well as physical distancing measures, disinfection of surfaces, regular hand washing and body temperature checks on arrival subject to local authority guidelines. Two years later, COVID restrictions have eased in some areas. We are therefore following the advice given by the respective regional authorities to ensure that we comply with all necessary health and safety guidelines.
Since the pandemic, our businesses have become even more customer-centric, resilient and efficient across our global network, the largest in the industry, with operations in more than 140 countries. We have introduced services such as Digital Document Verification, which allows clients to have their application documents verified before visiting an application center, making the experience less time consuming. Likewise, our Visa At Your Doorstep service provides an end-to-end visa submission facility to customers at their location of choice and meets the growing demands for a contactless experience.
- What are some of the most innovative solutions from VFS Global?
We believe the demand for innovative solutions will intensify in a post-COVID world. We have introduced innovative solutions such as LIDProMT– which enables remote processing and assessment of visa applications by client governments – and mobile biometric solutions, which enable client governments to offer temporary visa application drop-off points in small towns where it is not there is no full-time visa application center.
We have also implemented machine learning solutions, which eliminate the need for data entry if the information is already available in supporting documents (eg passport or flight reservation). In 2018, we launched ViVA (“Virtual Visa Assistant”), the very first visa service chatbot. The AI-powered chatbot helps visa applicants answer questions related to the visa application process, such as visa categories, rules and regulations, contact details and payment procedures. It can process 10,000 queries per second 24/7, or 864 million per day, which significantly reduces candidate query processing time. We have reduced the time it takes to complete an e-visa application by more than 50% thanks to artificial intelligence.
- With your strategy and business development strategy, what are your plans for the future at VFS Global?
We have a clear growth strategy, which focuses on strengthening and consolidating our position in our core business of outsourced visa services, while also focusing on businesses such as outsourced passport and eVisa services.
Border management is likely to experience fundamental change, with the help of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics. We are seeing more and more governments integrating biometric enrollment into their visa application process to increase security. Our goal is to make cross-border mobility seamless, but we also aspire to create deep brand affection among our customers, colleagues, investors and communities, while growing our business and enhancing shareholder value in a sustainable and secure way.
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