As the fear of the contagion looms large, most services and facilities across the world are going contacless. The world of travel is not too far behind. As travel restrictions ease and movement begins, airports are coming up with creative ideas to inculcate minimum or no-contact set ups. We spoke to Noel Swain, Head for Schengen, eVisa and Passport Services, VFS Global, to gain an insight into the current trend of e-visas.
Keeping in mind the current scenario, e-visas seem to be the way forward. Your thoughts?
With the new turn in global events and physical distancing becoming the new normal in the post-COVID world, the way forward for governments across the world will be to embrace innovation and rethink their service delivery models, especially for services related to freedom of movement and people-to-people contacts. Governments will have to explore technological solutions that allow travellers to maintain physical distancing norms as much as possible and at the same time, get a high level of service and personalised customer experience. This is where e-visas can become a gamechanger.
E-visa facilitation can allow customers to submit their documents, including medical certificates as required online, from the comfort of their homes, if personal biometric enrolment is not required for respective destinations. Governments could also verify these documents before the entry of the customer, thereby decreasing the load factor at the port of entry. This would also reduce the risk of exposure for travellers and airport staff. eVisas is also a relevant solution where the application process may not require biometrics enrollment altogether or in cases where travelers from low risk countries can be exempt from biometrics
Currently, how many countries are issuing e-visas globally?
As a service, e-visa is steadily gaining acceptance by many governments, particularly if personal biometric enrolment is not required. At present, VFS Global is the officially authorised partner of Thailand and Vietnam for offering the ‘E-Visa on Arrival’ service for both countries. The company also offers e-visas / digital landing card for Suriname, and for the United Arab Emirates through DVPC, exclusively for passengers of Emirates Airlines.
How do e-visas simplify the entire visa application process?
An e-visa simplifies and streamlines the entire lifecycle of the visa process, including everything from the application process to payment to decision-making and online tracking. It provides travellers the ability to complete visa application on the go and offers enhanced and seamless customer experience through globally accessible application process.
The VFS Global eVisa platform is modular and includes the application section used by prospective travelers / applications, the adjudication module used by governments, the quality check that is performed by a highly skilled operations team of VFS Global and also includes the ability to integrate with immigration and border control systems as maybe required by the government to ensure the relevant information of the applications is available across multiple points as may be required. The interface is also responsive to cater to the growing usage of mobile and tablet devices.
We also focus on the customer journey with the goal of making the process as simple as possible. The platform leverages artificial intelligence to extract data from documents uploaded by the application to fill out the application form that can be then reviewed for correctness by the applicant. Machine learning ensures that we are also constantly improving the data extraction algorithm to deliver higher accuracy
Do e-visas have benefits for travellers and the governments?
An e-visa benefits both governments and travellers equally. For governments, e-visa saves cost on infrastructure and manpower, provides better time efficiency by avoiding paper-based systems, especially in high-volume processing during peak season, and boosts economy due to higher tourist arrivals, thereby leading to more job creation. The adjudication module organises the information of the applicant in a simple online view that assists the immigration officers to make a decision on the visa through the eVisa platform itself
It also helps in boosting border control by helping prior verification of customers’ documents, thereby reducing the load at the port of entry. From travellers' perspective, e-visas make the visa application process easier, more accessible, and time saving due to the removal of offline application and submission of physical documents in traditional visa procedure. Travellers can submit their applications and make payments online, to receive official authorisation to travel even before the journey starts. An e-visa makes the immigration process at airports faster due to by doing away with requirements for any physical documents, photographs, or currency needed during immigration process.
How do e-visas fare in addressing security and identity fraud risks?
An e-visa addresses security and identity fraud risks through pre-checking of documents and integration with watchlists and border security platforms. Also, back-office quality checks help in mitigating risks. If I talk about VFS Global’ s e-visa solution, data privacy and security at the core of our offering, along with it being in line with the EU General Data Protection Regulation as well as local regulations around data protection.
Do e-visas involve any extra cost?
Our visa service costs are determined by our contracts with the client governments, and just like a visa applied for in a visa application centre, generally there's a visa fee and service fee involved in e-visas as well.
Two things travellers should keep in mind while applying for e-visas?
The process to apply for an e-visa is fairly simple and easily understandable. Travellers just need to remember to check the list of supporting documents and keep their soft and hard copies ready before filing an application for e-visa. Travellers also can also opt for express 'e-visa on arrival' service for quicker processing.
Can e-visas play a role in promoting tourism?
Absolutely! Easier and more accessible visa application process can potentially give a boost to a destination's tourism by creating a better image of the destination, which positively affects travellers' loyalty. More so, in the current scenario, e-visa can act as a supporting tool of promotional campaigns by the governments in increasing the destination’s level of recognition as a 'safe destination'. This will help in attracting major tourist flows through word-of-mouth or social media.