VFS Global

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company

VFS Global is an outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide.[1] The company manages visa and passport issuance-related administrative and non-discretionary tasks for its client governments. It is based in Dubai.

The company operates in 139 countries on behalf of its 60 client governments. It has processed over 180 million applications since it commenced operations in 2001.[2]

History

VFS Global was established in Mumbai in 2001, when it set up three Visa Application Centres for its first client government – the United States of America. By 2005 VFS Global served eleven governments – including the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. In 2007 it won its first global account from UK Visas and Immigration for operations across 33 countries.

VFS Global works predominantly with a user-pay revenue model where it receives its service fee directly from the visa applicants, in addition to the visa fees which are remitted to the diplomatic mission.

Recent contracts

VFS Global was selected by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany to process visas in select locations in the regions of North Africa and Middle East. This included about ten countries in both regions Centres in the new regions will be launched in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Manama on 1 February 2018.[3]

2017 was a busy year for the company as eight new client governments were added. This included Armenia, Bahrain, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Nigeria, Slovakia and Ukraine whereby VFS Global was servicing 58 client governments globally by offering a range of visa, permit, passport, consular, identity and citizen services at the end of the year.[4]

VFS Global was recently re-awarded visa processing services contracts by the Government of Italy (with whom they share a partnership of close to 14 years) in Cameroon, Ghana and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for another four years and also awarded a 3-year contract to manage Italy visa services to the residents of Libya after participating in an official tender published by the Embassy of Italy in Libya. [5]

The company also extended the contracts with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania and The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Croatia on 15th February 2018. As part of the extension, VFS Global will service Croatia visas across 27 countries, and Lithuania visas in 9 countries.[6]

New visa application centres

In February 2018, VFS Global announced the opening of new the Latvia visa application centres in the UAE at Abu Dhabi and Dubai to process Schengen entry permits. This was part of the outsource mandate from the Government of Latvia for various countries which included UK, China, India, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Lebanon and South Korea. [7]

In late 2017, VFS Global also commenced the expansion of visa services network of Cyprus in India with new centres launched in four additional cities of Thiruvananthapuram, Goa, Gurugram, and Jaipur. These new centres commenced operations on 10 November 2017.The expansion of the network of Cyprus visa centres was to a total of 16 cities in India where applicants were offered additional services, such as SMS updates, courier services, online tracking services etc. [8]

In August 2017, VFS Global completed the acquisition of UK-based visa service provider TT Services (TTS) for an undisclosed amount. At the time of the acquisition, TTS operated 51 visa application centres in over 35 countries with 216 employees.[9]

Citizen services and partnerships

As part of a recent contract with DIFC Wills & Probate Registry, investors and residents in the UAE cities of Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah who have registered a will online were eligible to receive verification services from VFS Global as part of a ‘Citizen Services’ program. This came after a recent introduction of ‘The Law for Administration of Non-Muslim Estates in Dubai and Execution of their Wills’ where asset-owners can use security features including e-authentication, verifying the identity of the testator and e-witnessing that ensures that the will was drafted and witnessed with no third party influence as part of the services provided.[10]

In July 2017, VFS Global's education services arm-VFS Edu Support Services Pvt. Ltd., stated that they had entered into a partnership with UK-based Edtech Oxademy Technologies and its subsidiary Oxademy Business School in Mumbai. As part of the partnership, a new global digital learning platform ‘VFS-Oxademy’ was formed with an artificial intelligence (AI) cloud infrastructure called OX360 was being launched.[11]

VFS Global entered into partnerships with various commercial airline companies located in the GCC region to process e-visas through an online portal. In late 2016, the company's unit- Dubai Visa Processing Centre (DVPC) launched a mobile application for customers of Emirates Airline flying to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). [12] Earlier in 2016, Qatar Airways and Qatar Tourism Authority had also signed an agreement with VFS Global to support the tourist visa application system initiative for inbound travelers planning to visit Qatar. [13]

In April 2017, the Kingdom of Bahrain’s national carrier, Gulf Air, signed a partnership with the company for an online platform for travelers to Bahrain.[14]

In early 2017, Czech Tourism appointed VFS Global as its India representative for a year to support Indian travel agents and tour operator cooperation.[15]

ENIT - Italian State Tourist Board reopened its Mumbai office in 2013 in association with VFS Global to assist the Tourism Board to set up their India operations to promote Italy as a tourism destination. [16] In February 2015, VFS Global was appointed to respresent Macau Tourism Office in India. As part of the partnership MGTO opened an office in Mumbai[17]

The VFS Global-Atout France initiative was rolled out as a pilot project for disseminating information about France’s tourism opportunities.[18]

Data breaches

A security flaw in the VFS Global managed online application website for the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office resulted in up to 50 000 visa applications from India, Nigeria and Russia being publicly accessible.[no citations needed here] The security flaw was known since December 2005, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website was only shut down after an investigation in May 2007 following reports in the media.[19][20] The security breach was first reported by an Indian applicant[no citations needed here] in December 2005 after which no effective remedial action was taken by either VFS nor UK visas, the joint Home Office and Foreign & Commonwealth Office unit which runs the UK's visa service through British diplomatic posts overseas. The same applicant went public in May 2007 after he noticed that his earlier warnings were ignored.

The report[21][22][23] of the investigation by the Independent Investigator, Linda Costelloe Baker highlighted organisational failures by both VFS and UKvisas. The report also recommended that the VFS online visa applications not be resumed for applications from India. This has since been replaced by the secure online applications made available directly at the Visa4UK official government website of the UK Border Agency. Baker also mentioned in the report that following this incident, UKvisas conducted extensive testing and found no evidence that data had been stolen or misused.[no citations needed here] VFS underestimated what was necessary in order to protect personal data to the levels expected by the UK Data Protections Act. After this incident, several visa application level checks were put in place. Technical processes were also upgraded later to check the records of the online application site.

In November 2007, the UK Information Commissioner's Office announced that it had found the Foreign Office in breach of its obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998. The Information Commissioner's Office required the Foreign Office to sign a statement[24] that it would comply with the Data Protection Act and would not reopen the VFS UK visa online facility. It has been reported by The Guardian[25] that as a result of this ruling, the Foreign Office would review its relationship with VFS and seek to significantly reduce its outsourced work, especially in the area of IT. Consequently, applicants from India today need to apply directly at the Visa4UK official government website for online visa applications. After the report was issued, VFS introduced various measures to ensure safe and secure business environment. One of them was to make all its centres ISO compliant.[26]

Since this incident several governments have been critical of VFS Global's abilities and have raised concerns over security.[27] "There's the accountability issue, the privacy issue and why are we outsourcing to a for-profit entity something that belongs in the security mandate?" asked Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council. Liam Clifford of Global Visas, told The Sunday Telegraph: "Once you put this work in the hands of private companies overseas, you no longer have the same protection."

VFS Global's security flaws were called into question again in July 2015 when their online visa forms for Italy allowed users to see the personal information of other applicants, including their date of birth, passport details and addresses, if they mistakenly input the ID number of another person when logging into the system.[28]

Following the uncovering of security issues, the company stated that they followed the ‘Four-Eye’ principle where there is a maker and checker always in place to counter such issues along with security awareness programmes carried out internally amongst employees. VFS Global annually renews the ISO 27001 audit and certification.[29]

References

  1. "VFS Global". http://www.vfsglobal.com/about_us/company_profile.asp. Retrieved 2015-10-15. 
  2. "Dubai: Latvia Opens New External Visa Centres in UAE in Partnership with VFS Global". Dubai: .bellevision.com. 2018-02-05. http://www.bellevision.com/index.php?action=topnews_print&type=18930. Retrieved 2018-02-14. 
  3. "VFS Global to process Germany visas in ten 10 new countries". Dubai: .traveldailynews. 2018-01-03. https://www.traveldailynews.com/post/vfs-global-to-process-germany-visas-in-ten-10-new-countries. Retrieved 2018-02-14. 
  4. "VFS Global now serves Germany across 19 nations globally". Dubai: .prnewswire. 2018-01-03. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/vfs-global-to-process-germany-visas-in-10-new-countries-667830993.html. Retrieved 2018-02-14. 
  5. "VFS Global Further Strengthens Partnership With the Government of Italy". Dubai: IANS. 2018-02-18. http://ians.in/index.php?param=prnewswiredetail/PRN-889422. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  6. "Croatia and Lithuania Extend Their Contracts With VFS Global". Dubai: .prnewswire. 2018-02-15. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/croatia-and-lithuania-extend-their-contracts-with-vfs-global-674141753.html. Retrieved 2018-02-15. 
  7. "VFS Global to process Schengen visa to Latvia". Dubai: Gulf News. 2018-02-05. http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/government/vfs-global-to-process-schengen-visa-to-latvia-1.2168895. Retrieved 2018-02-14. 
  8. "Cyprus Visa Application Centres now in 16 cities across India". India: Travel News Digest. 2017-11-23. http://www.travelnewsdigest.in/2017/11/cyprus-visa-application-centres-now-in-16-cities-across-india/. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  9. "VFS Global completes acquisition of visa service provider TT Services". Delhi: Times of India. 2017-08-23. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/vfs-global-completes-acquisition-of-visa-service-provider-tt-services/articleshow/60189862.cms. Retrieved 2018-02-15. 
  10. "Residents with registered wills to receive free verification services". Dubai: Gulf News. 2017-11-08. http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/society/residents-with-registered-wills-to-receive-free-verification-services-1.2120966. Retrieved 2018-02-15. 
  11. "VFS Edu Support Services partners with Oxademy to launch World’s first ‘AI-based’ online learning programs for students". Mumbai: Business World Education. 2017-07-26. http://bweducation.businessworld.in/article/VFS-Edu-Support-Services-partners-with-Oxademy-to-launch-World-s-first-AI-based-online-learning-programs-for-students/26-07-2017-122821/. Retrieved 2018-02-15. 
  12. "VFS Global introduces mobile app for UAE visas". India: Travel Trends Today. 2016-11-16. https://www.traveltrendstoday.in/news/international/item/4519-vfs-global-introduces-mobile-app-for-uae-visas. Retrieved 2018-02-15. 
  13. "Qatar Airways and QTA Sign Agreement with VFS Global". Doha: Marhaba. 2016-09-01. https://www.marhaba.qa/qatar-airways-and-qta-sign-agreement-with-vfs-global/. Retrieved 2018-02-15. 
  14. "Gulf Air, VFS Global ink partnership agreement". Doha: Bahrain News Gazette.. 2017-04-26. http://www.bahrainnewsgazette.com/gulf-air-vfs-global-ink-partnership-agreement/. Retrieved 2018-02-15. 
  15. "Czech Tourism appoints VFS Global as India rep". Mumbai: Tourism Breaking News. 2017-02-23. https://tourismbreakingnews.com/czech-tourism-appoints-vfs-global-as-india-rep/. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  16. "Czech Tourism appoints VFS Global as India rep". Mumbai: Travel Biz Monitor. 2013-05-27. http://www.travelbizmonitor.com/Trade-News/enit--italian-state-tourist-board-reopens-mumbai-office-20495. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  17. "VFS Global appointed Macau Tourism Office in India". Mumbai: Travel Biz Monitor. 2015-02-12. http://www.macaubusiness.com/vfs-global-appointed-macau-tourism-office-in-india/. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  18. "Now, apply for a French visa in Bengaluru". Bangalore: Times of India. 2017-05-16. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/now-apply-for-a-french-visa-in-bengaluru/articleshow/58690678.cms. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  19. Bollard, Mark (18 May 2007). "Indian problem could be worldwide". The Register. https://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/05/18/visa_breach/. Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  20. "Exposed: Indian visa application data accessible to anyone with a web browser". Daniweb.com. 2012-06-20. http://www.daniweb.com/hardware-and-software/networking/news/218517/exposed-indian-visa-application-data-accessible-to-anyone-with-a-web-browser. Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  21. "Report of The Independent Investigation". Fco.gov.uk. 2009-11-05. http://www.statewatch.org/news/2007/jul/uk-visa-security-report.pdf. Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  22. "Investigator ridicules UK visa site". The Register. https://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/08/11/uk_visa_site_investigation/. Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  23. "U.K. government slammed over bug in outsourced Web site". Computerworld. 2007-08-10. http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9030018. Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  24. Foreign Office in breach of the Data Protection Act. Information Commissioner’s Office. 13 November 2007. http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/pressreleases/2007/fco_undertaking_131107.pdf. Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  25. Bobbie Johnson (2007-11-14). "UK government failed to protect privacy of online visa applications; guardian.co.uk". London: Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2007/nov/14/data.protection.breach. Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  26. "Travel & Hospitality: VFS Global - Express Computer". Expresscomputeronline.com. 2008-10-13. http://www.expresscomputeronline.com/20081013/expressintelligententerprise03.shtml. Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  27. "Private firm's work with visas raises concerns". Toronto: .thestar.com. 2008-10-13. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2008/06/16/private_firms_work_with_visas_raises_concerns.html. Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  28. Saeed Kamali Dehghan (17 July 2015). "Users' data compromised after technical glitch at Home Office contractor". The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/17/users-data-compromised-after-technical-glitch-at-home-office-contractor. 
  29. "‘Security is of paramount importance to us’". Mumbai: Express Travel World. 2016-06-11. http://www.expressbpd.com/travel/market-travel/security-is-of-paramount-importance-to-us/280486/. Retrieved 2018-02-15.