VFS Global predicts it to be a busy summer travel; Advises travelers to apply early to avoid any last minute delays

Amit Kumar Sharma recently took charge to head the Americas region for VFS Global, the world’s largest outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions. VFS Global is the trusted partner of 67 client governments, operating a global network with more than 3,400 application centres in 145 countries. The company has processed over 253 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.
1. The summer travel rush 2023 promises to be a big one this year, how do you foresee the demand for travel and how is VFS Global equipped to manage the additional rush?
A: 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 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 centers, and implementing various digital solutions, all of those steps have been taken to ensure a smooth experience for the applicants.
2. What are your recommendations for travelers during the summer?
A: In addition to researching and selecting destinations that match your preferences and interests, there are several other crucial steps to take before embarking on an international trip during summer. These include verifying the validity of your passport, checking visa requirements, and scheduling visa appointments well in advance. As summer is the peak travel season, it’s recommended to submit visa applications at least 8-10 weeks ahead of your travel date. However, you should be aware that this timeline could be even longer due to high travel demand.
Other factors to keep in mind when planning your trip include maintaining flexibility in your travel arrangements to account for potential delays or cancellations, having travel insurance to safeguard against unexpected events, and staying informed about health and safety measures at your destination. It’s essential to stay up-to-date with the latest guidelines and carry necessary health documents, practice social distancing, and follow mask guidelines in the country you plan to visit. By considering all of these recommendations, you can make your summer travel experience safe, enjoyable, and stress-free.
3. The Consular Camps being conducted have been popular and useful, What kind of volumes are we seeing?
A: The Consular Camps in the U.S have been well-received since they began in 2021 in partnership with the Embassy of India in the USA. We held 17-18 consular camps in 2021 and participated in 26 consular camps in 2022, with several planned for 2023. Our team and trained staff work closely with the Embassy of India and Consulate Generals of India, coordinating with the Diaspora federations and associations to hold the camps in convenient locations for the local community, normally on a Saturday. Prior to the camps, we set up an appointment system to ensure efficient processing and preparation of required documents.
4. What has been the response and what states and cities in the U.S have been covered through the Consular camps?
A: We have received really positive response across consular camps that have been held in over 17 cities across the U.S, including New York, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Cincinnati, North Carolina, Ohio, Minnesota, Connecticut, Charlotte, and more. The community has found it really useful and we have processed over 3,000 applications in 2022. This year we have held 3 consular camps and more are planned in New Cumberland in Pennsylvania, Norwalk in California and Johnston in Illinois. We are open to holding camps in any region with the consent and availability of the Embassy of India/Consulate and offer appointment slots weeks in advance for customers to plan and prepare their documentation.
5. What are the most common services utilized at the Consular camps by the Indian Diaspora in the Americas?
A: The most popular services at the Consular camps include OCI, passports, and visas. Additionally, customers can have their applications verified and submitted in person for renunciation, police clearance certificates, and GEP. The Consulate also provides representation and services such as birth certificates and attestation services.
6. Can you provide information on the size and growth of the Indian Diaspora in the Americas?
A: According to a recent study by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute (MPI), there are estimated to be 5 million Indian Americans, the second-largest immigrant group in the United States. The largest settlements are on the East and West Coasts, but communities are also growing in cities like Ohio, Boston, Washington D.C, Maryland, North Carolina, and Wisconsin with the expansion of tech and manufacturing companies. The Indian Diaspora is also moving into non-metro cities where infrastructure and commercial settlements are increasing.
7. How did the pandemic impact the services offered by VFS Global and the Consular camps?
A: Like many other organizations, the pandemic had a significant impact on our services. 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 Card or even applying for visas completely from home. We have end to end online processes where applicants can apply and make the full payment online. Once the online process is complete and the documents are ready, you can send them to us via courier. After the decision on your documents has been made, they will get delivered back to your home, therefore almost entirely eliminating any need for you to leave your home. We also started conducting consular camps to facilitate easier local access to consular services for the Indian Diaspora. Customers are now able to get their completed applications verified and submitted in person for Passport, OCI, Renunciation, Police Clearance Certificate, Visa and GEP closer to home.
8. What are the new services that you have introduced to make the processes faster?
A: We have introduced services such as Digital Document Check for other governments we work with, which enables customers to get their application documents verified before visiting an application centre, thereby making the experience less time-consuming. Our enhancements to the form-filling process will also help you upload and digitally complete the process from home, or take help from our call center, ensuring the correctness and speed of the process itself. We are constantly listening to feedback from the applicants as well as the governments we work with that helps us to introduce new services.

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