Interview with Jiten Vyas, VFS Gobal’s chief commercial officer, about how embassies can benefit from modern visa and passport processing services and enhance the reputation of their countries.
- What’s your role at VFS Global?
I joined the company in 2003. I am the chief commercial officer responsible for Passport & Consular Services, eVisa Services, and other high-growth businesses. Before this, 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 chain of visa processing? What advantages and benefits can VFS Global’s services bring to the governments represented in Washington through their embassies and high commissions?
We handle almost the entire non-judgmental and administrative part of the process – starting from accepting the visa application to returning the passport to the visa applicant post the decision-making process by the Embassy or Consulate. In between, we add services to enhance the overall experience for applicants and client governments. This includes appointment booking, application checking, database creation, fee collection, biometric enrolment, forwarding documents to the Embassy / Consulate, and courier passback of documents to the visa applicants. What was an unheard-of concept of visa process outsourcing less than two decades ago, has now become the norm simply because of the many benefits it offers governments, for example reduction in process complexities, cost reduction and enhanced customer experience.
During the pandemic where physical distancing was a must, our consular service offering proved very useful for customers. In fact, the pandemic accelerated the trend of outsourcing passport and consular services as governments looked to limit the number of people applying directly at their embassies and consulates. These services assist citizens living abroad and can range from passport and National ID card issuance and renewal to document legalization, birth, death, and marriage registration.
We provide passport and consular services for 16 governments in 34 countries, operating 184 centers worldwide and are delighted to have processed over 3 million passport applications since we started our passport business in 2008.
- What does VFS Global do in the United States?
At present, we manage visa and passport services for 22 governments through a network of 19 application centers spread across 10 cities.
Last December, we were delighted to open our first-ever Philippine ePassport Renewal Center in in Los Angeles for the convenience of Filipino nationals. This was done in a bid to ease 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 Ghana government in Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as for the government of the Netherlands in Chicago, to serve their citizens in the United States.
- Can you tell us about your work with India’s government here?
VFS Global has been serving the government of India since 2008. As a company that has its origins in Mumbai, India—where the first VFS Global Application Center was set up close to two decades ago—it is a matter of immense pride that in 2020, VFS Global won 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 more than four million Indians in the diaspora. We have successfully processed over 785,000 applications for the Indian diaspora since we took over the service in November 2020.
In addition, VFS Global, the Embassy of India, and local Indian associations and federations host regular consular camps to facilitate access to consular services for the Indian diaspora in different locations across the USA. At these camps, customers can get their completed applications verified and submitted in person for passport, OCI, renunciation, police clearance certificate, visa and GEP. So far, we have held 14 consular camps in six cities, with five more camps planned in the next three months.
- After a difficult couple of years for the travel industry, how can VFS Global help to get safe travel back on track?
We are very mindful that during the pandemic, health considerations took priority at every stage. We quickly established standardized protective measures across our visa application centers. We implemented a mandatory appointment system, alongside physical distancing measures, disinfecting surfaces, regular handwashing and checking body temperature on arrival subject to local authority guidelines. Two years on, COVID restrictions have eased in some regions. So we are following the advice given by respective regional authorities to ensure that we meet all the necessary health and safety guidelines.
Since the pandemic, our businesses have become even more customer-centric, resilient, and efficient across our global network, the biggest in the industry, having operations in 140+ countries. We have introduced services such as Digital Document Check, which enables customers to get their application documents verified before visiting an application center, thereby making the experience less time-consuming. Similarly, our Visa At Your Doorstep service provides an end-to-end visa submission facility to customers at a location of their choice, and caters to growing demands for a contactless experience.
- What are some of VFS Global’s most innovative solutions?
We believe that demand for innovative solutions will intensify in a post-COVID world. We have introduced innovative solutions such as LIDProTM—which enables remote processing and assessment of visa applications by client governments—and mobile biometric solutions, which allow client governments to offer temporary visa application submission points in smaller cities where 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 (e.g. passport or flight booking). In 2018, we launched ViVA (“Virtual Visa Assistant”), the first-ever visa services chatbot. The artificial intelligence-powered chatbot helps visa applicants with queries related to the visa application process such as visa categories, rules and regulations, contact information and payment procedures. It can handle 10,000 inquiries per second 24/7, or 864 million in a day, significantly reducing the turnaround time of applicant queries. We have reduced the time required to complete an e-visa application by more than 50% using artificial intelligence.
- With your strategy and business development hat on, 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 see a fundamental change, with the help of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics. We see more governments integrating biometric enrollment in 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 developing our business and enhancing shareholder value in a sustainable and secure manner.