Prabuddha Sen, Chief Operating Officer for South Asia, VFS Global, urges the travel trade fraternity to caution their clients against visa frauds and incorrect documentation and encourage them to apply for visa in advance.
Prabuddha Sen, Chief Operating Officer (COO) for South Asia, VFS Global, speaking on the sidelines of a TAFI event in Mumbai, indicated a big focus on collaborating with the trade. He said, “The travel community is an integral part of the eco-system that we belong to. The demand for travel post the pandemic has been way too high. As a result, diplomatic missions were unable to process the number of visas that were being applied for. Hence, the problem of visa shopping appeared on our horizon.”
Enter the trade fraternity. “We have dealt with it in conjunction with the travel fraternity. While I cannot say that it has been a smooth journey so far; people have faced difficulties in getting visa appointments, especially because of the capping, and people have faced difficulties getting their passport processed on a timely manner. But we have tried our best and have engaged with the diplomatic community also to make it seamless for the applicants,” Sen added.
Planning for visa key
He said that VFS Global has had a lot of engagement on social media requesting travellers to plan their travels well in advance. “People are able to apply for their visa 90 days in advance for most of the governments. In fact, for Schengen visa, they can apply even six months in advance. Forward planning is something we have heavily encouraged during this difficult period. We have observed that this has increased in recent times. There is a lot of visa shopping that happens because people are trying to apply for a certain visa with incorrect documentation, probably intending to go to country A but ending up in country B’s queue because that is where the appointment is available. For us as well as the trade, it should be a constant endeavour to be able to educate the applicant and create the awareness that they don’t get trapped. At VFS, we do not sell visa appointments, and as of last month, we have started a campaign in this regard to educate gullible applicants to not fall prey to many of the grey operators that exist in the system. Therefore, we really urge people to utilise the window of 180 days before which they can apply for visa. At the end of the day, it becomes an administrative hassle for us also,” Sen said.
Another issue that he touched upon is forgery and fraudulent visa processing. “India is a large country and not every corner can be covered. But national associations like TAFI can help because of their wide reach and we encourage them to take this message across to their client base,” he said.
Visa situation now
Sen said that there are a lot of governments which are already doing a lot better now than in 2021. “Some Schengen countries will still face some issues, especially because of visa shopping, which is also leading to poor quality of documentation. That is leading to a rise in the rejection rate and also increasing processing times. But I’m sure we will be able to cross this bridge too,” he added.
After more than a decade, VFS Global opened a visa centre in Lucknow in February this year. “That was a step forward. We do have plans to open a few more visa centres in places where we are not present today. But these will largely be tier II or III cities. Before we do that, we are already engaging with media in the language of the land to be able to take the message across – not to fall for visa fraud by hands of grey operators,” Sen said.
Shift in seasonality
Last year, on an average VFS Global processed 20,000 applications each day throughout the year. Not all were Schengen of course; they included UK and USA and Canada also. “But during season time, that daily number increased to 25,000 per day. What we have also seen significantly is a shift in the seasonality. Due to the pent-up demand, we have seen demand remain constant through the period of so-called lean months like September and October. This year, we see a certain amount of stability already having set in because of part of 2021 and 2022. After the restart happened in March, things have picked up. But we still see on an average 30,000 applications come in every day across the spectrum,” Sen revealed.
Traditionally, from India, UK, USA, Australia, and Canada remain busy. Schengen could have been busy if they were able to process more applications, though the intention is there to get more tourists from India. “The geo-political situation in the world, some of the key markets are not performing well. So, there is a strong desire to get more applicants from India. If we didn’t have any capping, we would have possibly touched our Schengen count of 2019-20. We fell short by about 30 per cent, but we will continue to see a strong recovery. This is in spite of the fact that the airfares are at an all-time high,” Sen exclaimed.
What is visa shopping?
Visa shopping is the practice of applying for a visa from a country where it is faster or easier to get as compared to others.