The increase in the number of people travelling to European destinations, particularly to Schengen countries, over the last few years has manifested itself in a requirement to process large volumes of visa applications. Ajit Alexander, Chief Operating Officer, VFS Global Menaregion, on Wednesday,spoke to William Faria from The Gulf Today where he explains how the Dubai hub has become an ideal solution to meet visa demand collectively. Alexander explains that VFS Global is known for being amongst the pioneers and leaders in the spectrum of visa services and front office services for governments globally. Over the past 15 years the company has developed a highly successful business model which features unique strengths and key differentiators over its competitors.
Here is the full interview:
Q. Can you mention when VFS Global was established?
A. To begin with, VFS Global is the world’s largest outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide. The company manages visa and passport issuance-related administrative and non-judgemental tasks for its client governments.
The firm was founded in 2001 in Mumbai, India and today, has its offices and operations across the globe. With over 1,610 Application Centres (ACs) and operations in 120 countries across five continents as of 30 April 2015, VFS Global serves the interests of 45 client governments. VFS Global’s worldwide operations are certified ISO 9001:2008 for Quality Management System, ISO 27001:2005 for Information Security Management System and ISO 14001:2004 for Environmental Management System.
Q. What has been the reason for VFS Global to establish its headquarters in Dubai?
A. Well, we all know that Dubai has reached global heights in the corporate and tourism world and is a great destination for travel, apart from being a great connecting hub between Europe and Asia. The future markets for our business definitely have focus, amongst others, on the Middle East & Africa, all of which are conveniently accessible from Dubai.
Q. What services does VFS Global provide?
A. At VFS Global we manage visa issuance-related administrative and non-judgmental tasks for diplomatic missions. The range of service encompasses operations support, information dissemination, scrutiny and acceptance of documents, telephone and e-mail help lines, collection and remittance of fees, biometrics enrolment, data reconciliation, database creation, submission to the mission, appointment scheduling, and return delivery of passports.
This broad scope enables client governments to focus entirely on the primary task of assessment and interviews. This visa centre is a unique concept wherein people wishing to travel for leisure, business or other purposes avail visa services of the respective countries from one single source and under one roof based here at the Wafi Mall.
At VFS Global we accept visa applications, then it is forwarded to the respective embassies, who in turn will continue to assess and adjudicate all visa applications.
At VFS Global we are transparent in our operations and, the issuance of visas is done under the sole discretion of the respective embassies in the UAE. By providing dedicated services, we are getting closer to our respective clients and have since shortened the stipulated handling times which in the past has been tedious. As an organisation which is focused on innovation, VFS Global has also developed a portfolio of technologically advanced new age solutions such as location independent document processing solution, mobile applications and video conferencing solutions among others.
Q. How important is the Middle East to VFS Global?
A. For VFS Global the Middle East has always been an important destination and we have often launched new services and innovations first in the Middle East region, primary amongst them being the 1st Joint Visa Application Centre.
In this particular region, the customer service standards are extremely high and we have a very discerning clientele. This has encouraged us to continuously raise the bar of customer service excellence. Today we have a presence across the GCC and other Middle Eastern states including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
Our involvement in the Middle East dates back to 2002, when we signed a contract with Emirates airline to process UAE visa applications for Emirates’ customers under the brand Dubai Visa Processing Centre (DVPC), initially in India and then across the globe. And in 2008 we introduced these centres in Iran, Jordan and Lebanon.
Q. How successful has VFS Global been since it was first started?
A. We have always been committed to delivering a professional and high-quality service to all applicants and travel agents in the UAE. VFS Global in Dubai offers the option of longer working hours and more convenience to customers, thus reducing the workload at the embassies and a better turnaround time for the issuance of visas.
Earlier people had to travel to the different embassies to apply for a visa. However, since we established operations in the UAE in 2004, we have got even closer to our clients, thus allowing people to make applications and collect passports with ease and convenience.
Q. Does the centre also offer priority services?
A. We also offer a premium lounge for those who prefer a more comfortable and personalised service. Applicants get SMS alerts regarding the status of their application, at a nominal fee, and can avail themselves of door-step delivery of passports.
Over the years, we have been fully committed to delivering a professional service to all applicants and travel agents in the country. We have put in place automated queue governance for smooth flow of applicants, providing better crowd management. We also have highly trained staff with local language capability dedicated to handle visa queries and applications. Yes, we have also taken into consideration priority service to applicants who are physically disabled, senior applicants and pregnant women.
Q. Is VFS Global involved in any Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative?
A. At VFS Global, we believe in giving back to society. We have participated in several CSR activities both locally and globally. We are committed to corporate volunteering and also to environment management.
Here in Dubai, our most recent involvement had been in February this year, when a group of 93 associates from VFS Global joined the Walk for Education 2015, which was organised by Dubai Cares.
The Walk for Education is held every year to raise awareness and funds to help provide education to children in need. VFS Global has been committed to the cause of empowerment through education. We have been delighted to support this CSR initiative. It is a great noble cause and of immense significance for the entire community.
Education is the right of every child and the only way to progress and change lives. We will continue to support the less privileged members of the community at large.
Q. What sort of investments has VFS Global done so far?
A. Well, besides improving our existing infrastructure, we have heavily invested in our Human Resources and their development and growth. Technology is another key business driver at VFS Global. Our focus on continuous investment in technology and our partnerships with the world’s leading technology companies enable us to offer sophisticated technology-driven solutions to our client governments.
Besides our visa and consular services business, we are also the industry leaders in Citizen Services and Identity Management solutions, and we see strong growth potential in this business.
We are leveraging the core competency of our visa and consular services activity to further develop our Citizen Services and Identity Management solutions business, and this is going to be one of our key focus areas over the coming few years. We are also focusing on developing new-age solutions, such as mobile channel solutions, eVisa solutions, mobile biometric solutions and other online solutions. We aim to leverage digital technology to its maximum potential in developing solutions.
Q. How many applications has VFS Global handled so far?
A. In May this year, we achieved a milestone of processing our 100 millionth application within a short span of 14 years of operation. This has indeed been a very proud moment for VFS Global as it is a strong testimony of our commitment and drive to deliver very high service quality consistently across the globe.
We have also processed close to 24 million biometric enrolments globally since the introduction of the solution in 2007.
The company remains focused on enhancing customer experience through its service quality standards and technology based innovations since inception. Our objective remains to continuously enhance the visa application experience for our customers and visa applicants through innovative technology-driven solutions.