Rise in travel following pandemic says representative of VFS Global visa and passport service

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Sonia Dhayagude at the India section in VFS Global, on December 12, 2022, in Washington DC. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

Washington DC: In 2001, when Zubin Karkaria, founder and CEO of VFS Global, started his visa outsourcing venture in Mumbai, India, little did he know his business would expand operations to 144 countries across five continents and serve 67 client governments and diplomatic missions within the next 21 years.

The ability to deal with crisis situations is the hallmark of VFS, it appears, overcoming first the post-9/11 environment and the pandemic over the last few years. Today, in the post-pandemic world, there is a rise in travel and business as COVID-19 has transitioned from pandemic to endemic, and governments have relaxed travel restrictions. “We are seeing a constant demand from students and families for travel and their favorite destinations are Canada, India, UK, France, and The Netherlands,” Head Americas at VFS Global, Sonia Dhayagude told News India Times in an interview December 12, 2022.

It all began when Karkaria started noticing people standing in long lines, and sometimes camping overnight outside the US Consulate in Mumbai. In an effort to alleviate their hardship, he launched visa outsourcing operations that became a hugely successful enterprise.

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“We launched in July 2001, and then 9/11 happened. But, despite difficulties, we opened centers in Pune and Ahmedabad two days before Christmas because we had promised the US Embassy that we would be live in three major cities of western India,” Dhayagude recalls.

Dhayagude said this has been the biggest innovation in the global travel industry, where foreign governments quickly realized the huge potential and started outsourcing contracts to VFS, which launched its US operations in 2011. VFS, which is ISO certified, has a professional setup with experience in information security, and data compliance and specializes in General Data Protection Regulations. “We have tie-ups with professional call centers, and our employees are trained by Consulates and Governments. So, it all culminated into a very well thought through network of services end- to-end,” she added.

She went on to say, “We have multiple levels of training in areas such as Schengen code, marketing and sales, and process training. Officers and managers receive different levels of training and must pass a certification program, which happens every three months.”

She noted that VFS’s global experience has been very positive so far, although there are challenges in the diversity of nuances and customization requirements when dealing with different countries. Whether it is creating websites or call centers to suit different languages to phone filling service in countries with low literacy, VFS has learned to effectively deliver.

According to Dhayagude, VFS provides passport and visa services for multiple countries in addition to E-visa, biometric, document verification, digital application assistance, global entry program, and fee collection services on behalf of Consulates and Embassies.

VFS has recently launched the visa-at-your-doorstep program, which is gaining a lot of momentum. About the program, she said, “We carry the mobile kits to capture biometrics of individuals in their homes. We also go to companies, corporates, and universities where students are a huge market for us,” adding that it makes more sense for large groups to utilize this program instead of making multiple in-person appointments at VFS centers.

For India related processes, she said, the Indian Government has not yet mandated biometrics in the US, but authorized VFS to provide services including passports and visas, overseas citizen of India, police clearance certificates, global entry program, passport renunciation, and collecting fees on behalf of Indian Embassy in Washington DC, and Consulates in other cities.

Dhayagude said the most common mistake applicants make is they don’t furnish proper documentation. As such, she requested that they verify their documents against the checklist on the website. The checklist is prepared based on requirements of local Consulates and Embassies, and therefore VFS does not have the authority to overlook any document, she stressed.

This year, VFS has conducted 26 consular camps so far in coordination with the Indian Embassy, Consulates, and the Federation of Indian Americans in different cities. “We have facilitated over three-and-a-half-thousand people and a lot of them are for the Indian Consulate in New York. We’ve also done several camps for the Indian Embassy, and Consulates in Chicago and San Francisco,” she added.

“Consular camps are very successful and very well appreciated. We normally do it on weekends since it’s more convenient for people. We’ve done it in conference halls, festivals, temples, and gurudwaras,” Dhayagude said adding that VFS facilitates camps whenever there’s a demand.

She advised that for emergency visa or passport services, VFS centers in New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco will accommodate walk-ins. VFS staff will help with application processes, and coordinate with local Embassies and Consulates as applicable, she added.

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