NEW DELHI: A sharp revival in post-Omicron demand for international travel has led to massive delays in visa processing — right from seeking appointment slot to give biometrics, submit the paperwork and then getting passports back. The problem is particularly severe with the Schengen states, US and some other countries as foreign consulates are yet to ramp up staff strength back to pre-2020 levels. VFS Global COO (South Asia) Prabuddha Sen says while his company “has been extremely proactive”, the “seasonality of travel” has shifted now. Excerpts:
Why is visa processing for so many countries facing such delays?
(There has been a) massive spike in visa demand. We’re experiencing unprecedented volumes — between 20,000 to 23,000 visa applications daily on an average from India given the pent-up travel demand. This was expected with the gradual opening of international borders, easing of travel restrictions and resumption of regular international flights from India. During peak season visa processing can take longer than anticipated, and this is common across all geographies and across all governments.
How did VFS and consulates in India gear up for this situation?
We have been extremely proactive in restarting operations. We have over 540 Visa Application Centres (VACs) in India, serving the interests of 51 client governments across 17 cities. Visa processing timelines depends on the visa categories and differs from government to government. Over the past couple of weeks many embassies and diplomatic missions have proactively addressed the issue and urged applicants to apply early and in time to be able to catch their flights.
Applicants complain even getting an appointment for VFS Global biometrics is tough. Comments.
Limited availability of appointments is again attributed to high demand exceeding supply. VFS Global provides appointments through a transparent and secure appointment management system on a first come-first-serve service (and) allocated as per directives from client governments. Travelers who were early in planning have seamlessly got appointments. This peak season is different from the ones pre-pandemic and last year we experienced that the seasonality has also shifted towards travel plans in the lean August-September period. Throughout the entire second half of 2021, we have experienced travel demand.
What should travelers do?
It is recommended to apply for visas as early as booking flights and stay. Most countries accept visa applications up to 90 days (3 months) before your date of travel. According to the revised Schengen Visa Code, effective February 2, 2020, you can apply for a Schengen visa up to 6 months before your date of travel. Particularly this year with higher demand and limited appointment slots available, we urge applicants to apply for their visa as early as possible.
Can people seek return of their passport to travel on the visas they already have while their application for a new visa is being processed?
In case a passport, having a valid visa to another destination, gets stuck with a diplomatic mission, we at VFS Global have processes in place to assist in withdrawing the passport as and when needed. However, since there is dependency on the diplomatic mission concerned and the location of the applicant vis-à-vis the diplomatic mission presence, we urge applicants to plan well in advance to not face last minute surprises.
The student travel season is approaching. What steps, if any, being taken to minimise delays for them?
We urge students to apply early to avoid last minute rush. Often client governments are proactive in easing the volumes for student visas. Also, visa-issuing authorities in various countries come under pressure from education governing bodies to ensure a timely visa issuance to prospective students to ensure students can start attending their stipulated courses in a timely manner. The High Commission of Canada, for instance, launched a dedicated queue system for biometric appointments for student applicants last year.