VFS Global is the world’s largest outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions. It is the trusted partner of 67 client governments, operating a global network with more than 3,300 application centres in 145 countries. The company has processed over 257 million applications since its inception in 2001.
The company manages non-judgmental and administrative tasks related to applications for visa, passport, and consular services for its client governments, enabling them to focus entirely on the critical assessment task.
Amit Kumar Sharma heads the Americas for VFS Global which includes the USA and Canada in North America and other countries in Central America and South America.
VOICE: How are you preparing for the upcoming summer travel season that could be the busiest one in a long time?
Sharma: As summer approaches, the travel industry is gearing up to match pre-COVID levels of travel demand from 2019. The pandemic caused a significant drop in travel due to restrictions, lockdowns, and border closures. However, with ongoing vaccination efforts and travel restrictions easing, there is a pent-up demand for travel, resulting in a surge in bookings for flights, hotels, and other services. As more universities resume in-person classes, we are already seeing an increase in student travel. Similarly, many businesses are resuming travel to attend meetings and events, while family reunions are also expected to boost travel demand. VFS Global is gearing up to handle these counts and is fully prepared to provide the best of services to our applicants. From ramping up the personnel to more space in our visa centres, and implementing various digital solutions, all of those steps have been taken to ensure a smooth experience for the applicants.
VOICE: Technology and digitization of processes is making it much easier for people to get their documentation done, how is VFS Global handling these?
Sharma: During the pandemic, there was an urgent need to adapt and evolve in order to facilitate emergency travel. At VFS Global, we leveraged our technological capabilities and provided customers with online and simplified services. We facilitated processes like passports, OCI cards or even applying for visas completely from home. Once the COVID restrictions were lifted, we introduced services such as Digital Document Check, which enables customers to get their application documents verified before visiting an application centre, thereby significantly reducing the physical time spent at a visa application centre. Our enhancements to the form-filling process also help applicants to upload and digitally complete the process from home. We are constantly listening to user feedback and enhancing our processes with the approval of the Embassy of India to make it simpler for the end customer.
VOICE: What are VFS Global’s expansion plans in Canada?
Sharma: VFS Global has constantly worked towards ensuring comfort and speedy services for visa applicants worldwide. The post pandemic world is seeing an added demand on travel VFS Global has been upgrading its offices in New York, San Francisco and several other locations in the U.S in anticipation of the rising demand. You will soon see a parallel upgrade of infrastructure across several locations in Canada including Toronto, Montreal, and other places to ensure more can be done at these locations.
VOICE: What are the client governments that VFS Global service in Canada?
Sharma: Currently VFS Global helps processing visa applications for the UK, Europe, Nigeria, New Zealand as well as the online eVisa for several countries including Vietnam, Suriname, amongst others.
VOICE: What are Temporary Enrolment Locations and in which locations will VFS Global set these up in Canada?
Sharma: Temporary Enrolment Locations are set up by VFS Global in areas with lower traffic, to provide applicants with the convenience of submitting their visa applications closer to their place of residence. These locations operate for a limited number of days each month and offer the same services as the regular visa application centres. This year VFS Global aims to set up Temporary Enrolment locations in Halifax.
VOICE: Sustainable travel is no more a luxury that some travellers can choose but a necessity that every traveller must choose. How can companies that are in a position similar to VFS Global help them make those choices easy and affordable?
Sharma: VFS Global encourages sustainable travel options among its employees, such as public transportation and cycle2work schemes. The company also uses technology to replace face-to-face meetings with virtual ones. VFS Global’s migration of offline processes to digital allows applicants to complete most of their visa application journey online. The Visa at Your Doorstep enables applicants an end-to-end visa application experience, including biometric enrollment from their homes or offices. VFS Global is committed to implementing sustainable practices persistently, despite any short-term inconvenience, as the long-term benefits outweigh it.
VOICE: What are the company’s plans in reducing its carbon emissions?
Sharma: Our sustainability initiatives under the Protecting our Environment pillar include programs with great emphasis on reducing our carbon footprint through a very elaborate strategy, of minimising energy consumption, shifting to renewable energy and offsetting mechanisms and as such significantly contributing to SDG 13.
To this end, we have initiated many actions for energy efficiency, we have shifted more than 50% of our total electricity consumption to renewable energy. Furthermore, we are offsetting our business flights and contributing to tree-planting initiatives.
Green Procurement is another area where we have made progress as an organization by opting for products and services that cause minimal adverse impact to our environment e.g., certified eco-paper for printing. We have also updated our procurement policy to reflect key environmental criteria and our commitment to sourcing responsibly.
At VFS Global, we do not generate a lot of waste given the nature of our business. But the waste that does get generated is largely linked to IT equipment. To reduce the impact of this waste we
- a) Donate it to charities in need,
- b) Donate it to employees who need it for their families or
- c) Recycle it responsibly. This E-Waste process has been adopted across locations.
In parallel, we have implemented an environmental management system, to address all environmental risks and opportunities that arise from our operations, which has been certified under ISO 14001:2015 standard, covering 100% of our premises around the world.
We recognise that for a company’s environment programme to be successful, everyone in the organisation must be on board. As a result, we consistently engage our employees to be green champions and have set up several training and awareness programmes while we also run multiple campaigns internally as well as through our social media to enhance environmental awareness and urge all our stakeholders to take part in tackling climate change.
VOICE: How can one avoid any visa fraud?
Sharma: Visa applicants are advised to be cautious of fraudulent entities or impersonators claiming to be associated with VFS Global. Such entities may charge applicants for scheduling appointments or providing other services using VFS Global’s name, even though VFS Global does not charge for scheduling appointments except for legitimate published fees. To stay safe, it is recommended to only use the official VFS Global website or authorized third-party partners to schedule appointments and pay fees. VFS Global also conducts social media campaigns to raise awareness about visa fraud and educate customers on how to identify and report fraudulent activities. It is crucial to be vigilant and report any suspicious activities to VFS Global or the relevant authorities.
VOICE: Easier processes have been a long-term demand for travel documents – how are you addressing this?
Sharma: VFS Global 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. Sensing the evolving need for personalised services, VFS Global is bringing more of the visa application process online and to the safety of our customers’ homes. We have recently introduced the innovative Digital Document Check and Digital Application Submission services. We also offer Visa at Your Doorstep (VAYD) service and have seen a sudden spike in demand for this service. We carry mobile kits to capture the biometrics of individuals in their homes or companies and corporate campuses. We also go to universities where students are a huge market for us adding that it makes more sense for large groups to utilise this program instead of making multiple in-person appointments at VFS Global centres. In the US, we also facilitate Consular Camps with the support of local federations and associations to bring consular services closer to the Indian diaspora community.