Zubin Karkaria, CEO of VFS Global Image Credit: Supplied

VFS Global, a leader in visa processing, has revolutionised the visa application experience for applicants across the world over the past 17 years. As a partner of 63 client governments in 146 countries, the company has played a pivotal role in the creation and development of a new industry, supporting growth in travel and tourism.

Zubin Karkaria, Chief Executive Officer of VFS Global Group, is credited with having pioneered the concept of visa process outsourcing with the launch of VFS Global in 2001. In this interview, Karkaria reveals VFS Global’s future plans and how business excellence has contributed to the company’s steady growth.

What are the key factors that have helped VFS Global maintain its leadership position in the visa industry?

The single-most important success factor has been VFS Global’s ability to deliver innovative solutions and services in a highly reliable and secure manner. From just one client mission in 2001, today VFS Global is the trusted partner of 63 client governments, serving them in 146 countries with 10,000 employees through more than 3,000 application centres. In fact, we serve 63 of the approximately 70 governments that outsource visa services worldwide, including the Government of the UAE since 2002 when we started processing UAE visa applications for Emirates Airline.

In the Middle East and North Africa, VFS Global has substantial operations — we serve 43 client governments through 596 application centres located across 18 countries in this region, supported by 1,890 employees. In 2013, the headquarters of our global operations were moved to Dubai in view of the emirate’s rising stature as a pre-eminent business capital.

These great strides have been achieved by taking an uncompromising approach to maintaining business excellence in every sphere, with robust systems and processes in place and a dynamic operations model. Ensuring the highest levels of information security and customer service has been another key factor, as also our ability to roll out projects globally under challenging conditions within tight timelines while maintaining the same high standards of quality, compliance and security.

Having pioneered this industry segment, we have a deep-rooted understanding of the requirements of governments and sensitivities involved. So the trust and goodwill developed over the past 17 years is a strong success factor, and today, most sovereign governments acknowledge VFS Global to be one of the most competent and trusted service providers in the visa processing business.

How has VFS Global adapted to the changing landscape in the travel industry?

With today’s customer demanding greater personalisation in services, it is imperative to leverage on digital technology to develop more customer-centric services. While we regularly roll out routine innovations to improve services in all regions, several game-changing solutions have proved to be successful.

We have developed and implemented a host of mobile biometric solutions, which lend a high level of flexibility and convenience to visa application submission. Visa At Your Doorstep is one such highly popular service, available in the Middle East and across all regions in the world where we operate, for various client governments. This has revolutionised the idea of visa application, by effectively bringing the visa centre to the applicant’s home or any location of choice, from where she/he can submit her/his visa application (including biometric enrolment).

Another recent innovation is ViVA, the first-ever visa services chatbot launched in India and now being launched for visa applicants to Italy in Bahrain. Powered by artificial intelligence, ViVA tackles applicant queries round the clock with highly nuanced responses, significantly reducing turnaround times.

We are also at the forefront of developing end-to-end eVisa solutions that cater to client governments looking for simpler online visa solutions. Going forward, VFS Global will continue to identify, prototype and launch innovations that will enhance the visa application process and cross-border travel.

How does VFS Global ensure the protection of data it receives from visa applicants?

As a company that handles large volumes of applicant information (for visas and citizen services), one of our biggest focus areas is to maintaining information security at every level of the process. In fact, VFS Global is one of the few companies globally that was able to comply with the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation when it came into effect in May 2018. To be GDPR compliant, we have a 13-point data privacy and protection framework that has more than 130 measurable metrics that enables us to monitor data protection across the organisation.

It is due to this strong culture of compliance that we are today one of the few companies easily able to adapt new data protection legislations that may be introduced in any of the 144 countries we operate in.

What are the other key areas that you are strengthening your presence?

While visa processing services will remain our core business over the next few years at least, we are focusing on developing two other business pillars — Identity and Citizen Services (ICS) and other digital solutions.

In ICS, VFS Global leverages on its expertise in the visa space to assist local governments with e-governance solutions, helping them assimilate next-generation solutions into public-facing services. These could be management of civic services such as processing of birth certificates, driving licences, national identification and foreigner registration programmes involving biometric enrolment or management of passport service centres.

In the UAE specifically, VFS Global manages several government-to-citizen initiatives, including legal services for Dubai Courts, medical test services for the Ministry of Health and Prevention, and will registration services for the DIFC Wills Service Centre.