VFS says outsourcing visa processing is progressive

Monday, 6 May 2024 04:12 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  •  Says more security conscious and stringent US was VFS first customer way back in 2001 followed by Australia, Canada and UK
  •  Over the past two decades VFS says it has grown to be trusted partner of over 60 countries who have outsourced visa processing
  •  Says VFS brings global best practices to improve transparency, integrity and efficiency to Sri Lanka’s immigration services thereby enhancing country’s profile and confidence to international traveller and minimise risks
  •  Clarifies an outsourced party, like in other jurisdictions, doesn’t get involved in the decision of granting a visa or determining who is granted or not
  •  Insists border control and issuance of visa is vested with and the prerogative of the Sovereign State
  •  Says new outsourced ETA arrangement ran smoothly since 17 April; pilot of visa-on-arrival on 1 May saw unfavourable developments allegedly aggravated by DIE employees resisting change for the better
  •  Dismisses standard processing fee as a deterrent to those who actually want to travel to a destination; cites Sri Lankans and global travellers paying similar fees 
  • Since 2001, VFS Global has handled over 285 million visa applications worldwide, including Sri Lanka from 2004
  •  Says boost for Sri Lanka destination marketing via VFS operations in 151 countries where it operates 3,398 Application Centres

By Nisthar Cassim

VFS Global, which styles itself as the world’s leading outsourcing and technology service specialist, on Saturday dismissed security and cost concerns and described the new electronic visa processing arrangement in Sri Lanka as progressive.

In terms of security, a VFS spokesman told the Daily FT that its first customer was the Government of the US way back in 2001 followed by Australia, Canada and UK which naturally have far more stringent security concerns.

Two decades later 67 governments have trust in the operating model and governance of VFS.

VFS says it has a responsible approach to technology development, adoption and integration, and the company prioritises ethical practices all of which have won the trust of over 60 countries whilst it has operations in 151 countries via 3,398 Application Centres. VFS began with the launch of visa application services for the US Consulate in Mumbai, in the western cities of India — Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Pune in 2001.

Headquartered in Zurich and Dubai, VFS Global is backed by majority shareholder Blackstone of US, along with the Swiss-based Kuoni and Hugentobler Foundation and EQT. In Sri Lanka VFS has been operating since 2004.

In terms of service fee, the VFS spokesman said $ 25 per Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) is more or less standard from a global perspective. “Thousands of Sri Lankans travelling overseas and millions of travelers pay a service fee for processing of Visas to respective governments,” he said and dismissed the processing fee as a deterrent to those who actually want to travel to a destination.

VFS Global has processed over 285 million visa applications since 2001 and over 133.95 million biometric enrolments since 2007.

The $ 25 fee is shared between the contracting partner the Singapore-based GBS Technology Services and its subsidiary IVS Global FZCO, and VFS as the technology platform.

The VFS spokesman was responding to the barrage of criticism arising from what the company described as misinformation and misrepresentation by both the public and travel trade.

VFS said in a bid to ensure integrity and efficiency of Sri Lanka’s ETA system, the Government in September last year considered and in November approved an unsolicited proposal from the Singapore-based GBS Technology Services in partnership with VFS. However the move was whilst SLT-Mobitel has been successfully providing the technology platform for the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DIE) since 2012 free of charge and had invested in an upgrade. (See separate story).

GBS Technology Services is a global visa outsourcing company and operates in 10 countries. IVS Global Services a global outsourcing and technology services specialist for diplomatic missions and governments worldwide, has been appointed by Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India to collect documents for Attestation and Apostille.

VFS said in partnership with GBS it brings global best practices to improve transparency, integrity and efficiency to Sri Lanka’s Immigration services thereby enhancing the country’s profile and confidence to international travelers and minimise risks.

As part of global strategy VFS said it forges partnership with multiple parties and GBS was one of them, and together they have provided solutions to several other countries too.

As per the plans, the roll out of the new ETA regime was on 17 April and it had been smooth with the facility of dealing with 30-day visa-free categories. The new visa on arrival segment was piloted on 1 May in tandem with DEI’s own system to pick up any teething problems, etc. Government alleged the chaos on 1 May was partly a work of unionised employees who are against outsourcing of and introduction of a tamper-proof new ETA system.

Given the sensitivities, SBS-VFS have temporarily suspended the pilot allowing DIE to process on-arrival visas. But the third party continues to process other visa applications via ETA.


National security and data protection

VFS confirmed that the outsourced party, like in other jurisdictions, doesn’t get involved in the decision of granting a visa or determining who is granted or not. “Border control, issuance of visa is vested with and the prerogative of the Sovereign state,” the spokesman emphasised.

The technology consortia’s role is limited to front-end administrative tasks only, which include collecting visa application forms, required documentation as per the respective government’s checklist, and enrol biometrics, where applicable. The process is fool-proof and tamper-free and efficient enabling the Government to make the final decision,” the spokesman explained. 

This is the same process every Sri Lankan goes through if and when wanting to visit countries such as the US, UK and several others which VFS represents for processing of visa in Sri Lanka.

VFS said it helps governments to better achieve their key objectives of streamlining operations, accelerating decision making and improving customer/visitor satisfaction. 

Contrary to claims, VFS said it doesn’t store applicants’ data beyond 7 days from the release of passports. As a global leader, the company is also obliged to follow best practices in terms of data security and privacy. In 2016 all websites managed by VFS Global certified ISO/IEC/IEEE 23026:2015 for engineering and management of websites for systems, software and services information and in 2017 VFS achieved Cyber Essentials certification for UKVI operations.

Recently VFS partnered with Responsible AI Institute to champion ethical AI development. In 2023 VFS was appointed to deliver UK Government visa and passport services across 142 countries. Same year it was certified with ISO/ IEC 27701:2019 for its effective Privacy Information Management System (PIMS) in compliance with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other data privacy regulations. In 2018 achieved full compliance with new European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for operations globally. In 2022 VFS Global became the first visa services company to receive a PMM Level 5 certification.

The VFS spokesman reiterated its credentials trusted by over 60 governments including US and UK which have stricter rules on data protection and privacy. It was pointed out that the fact that over 60 countries have outsourced their ETA processing to VFS confirms that these nations are satisfied with our internal protocols and best practices which are in line with requirements of national security. “We are a trusted partner of these governments and we honour that trust,” the spokesman said.

Apart from ensuring Sri Lanka’s ETA system is corrupt and tamper-free thereby making it one with integrity and reliability, VFS sources also said that via the new arrangement, Sri Lanka as a destination gets greater outreach and also an opportunity to be promoted via its over 3,000 centres among first time and regular overseas travelers. VFS will also plough back income earned from the Sri Lanka contract to destination marketing. 


Govt. should have got SLT-Mobitel to match or better GBS-IVS-VFS unsolicited proposal: Analysts

Some of VFS’ milestones