VFS Global operates outsourced visa application centres in Dubai and Abu Dhabi on behalf of the UK government, Schengen countries such as Germany, Italy and France and Singapore. Image Credit: Janice Leon/Gulf News

Dubai: Residents hoping to travel to some European countries this summer say they have been facing challenges in getting their visas from VFS Global in Wafi Mall since the start of the summer. They say it is difficult to book appointments and the fees are high.

VFS Global operates outsourced visa application centres in Dubai and Abu Dhabi on behalf of the UK government, Schengen countries such as Germany, Italy, France and other countries such as Singapore and Australia.

“Everything else is good except the appointment system, which is very poor. We were literally monitoring and tracking to see available appointment dates for three months,” an Indian couple told Gulf News.

To book an appointment online for a Schengen visa, applicants can make a general appointment for a service fee of Dh100 charged by VFS Global, plus the visa cost that goes to the respective government agencies.

If applicants want an upgraded service they can choose the Premium category or VIP service to hold their transactions at the VIP lounge with a dedicated member of staff to guide them and serve them refreshments for an additional Dh150.

UK visa applicants are not charged anything for general services but the Premium service costs Dh275.

Some applicants said they felt as if they were “somehow forced” to take the Premium category as there were no available slots for the General category months before their application.

“When you try taking the appointments, there are no appointments in the general category for [that month and the next two months]. Premium appointments are available aplenty, any day, all the time during their working hours. This is an obvious attempt to rip off visa applicants,” a resident told Gulf News in an e-mail.

Indian businessman Kannan said he found the service very organised despite the holiday rush. But he had a problem with the VIP fees.

“One thing I noticed was the VIP charges are exorbitantly high. Comparing it to other countries, they are still high,” Kannan said.

When contacted by Gulf News, Paul Vijayakumar, COO of VFS Global Middle East and Africa, said that the Premium service was purely optional. He explained all appointments are managed through a system provided for by each government, without intervention from their office.

“They have the option to make an appointment for the Premium service at their own convenience, we are not forcing them,” Vijayakumar told Gulf News.

On a visit to VFS Global, Gulf News spoke with several applicants who said the services for the Schengen countries were fine, except for Germany, where some processes such as filling out information sheets are duplicated.

Vijayakumar acknowledged this saying the problem was due to Germany’s recent introduction of the biometric system through a process that has inherent duplications. But he explained that the German government is already looking into it and is coming up with a solution in the coming weeks.

“We can expect process enhancement which will naturally reduce the waiting time for each applicant and then we can take more applicants which will definitely reduce the waiting time,” Vijayakumar said.

He said that VFS Global will extend its working hours by two hours in the next couple of weeks to better manage the influx of holidaymakers this summer, as it is the busiest time of the year and they process about 900 to 1,200 applications a day.

Vijayakumar noted that the number of visa applications in January this year was more than 4,000. The numbers have increased every month, with May getting the highest figures so far at more than 10,000.

Vijayakumar advised applicants to plan their holidays well in advance to avoid long queues during the holiday season.

Amna Rahman is an intern at Gulf News.