Visa Application Volumes Almost Back To Pre-Covid Levels, But Less China Travel – OpEd


India’s top market for outbound tourism, the eastern city of Kolkata, has in 2023 regained visa application volumes to 91% of pre-pandemic level, says VFS Global-South Asis head Vishal Jairath. 

As the world’s leading outsourcing and technology service specialist operating over 3,300 Application Centres in 149 countries, VFS Global has efficiently processed more than 278 million applications since 2001.

Jairath  told a group of select mediapersons that application volumes in 2023 increased by 2% over 2022 and acceptance of personalised services such as Visa At Your Doorstep (VAYD) see over four-fold rise against 2019.

“The outlook for 2024 remains strong and we expect to cross the pre-Covid annual volumes,” Jairath said. 

Popular destinations for Indian travellers include Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, UK, and US.

Jairath admitted that number of visa seekers to China has dropped. Before Covid, Kolkata was seen as an easy gateway into China with almost daily flights to Kunming in Yunnan (with good inward travel connections all over China). VFS cannot share embassy specific statistics without their explicit clearance. That this drop in China-bound travel  has happened though it is India’s leading trade partner may have something to drop in relations after the Ladakh border conflict and lack of direct sir connectivity.  

“The demand pattern in Kolkata was in line with the overall growth trend registered in India, which saw a 16% year-on-year in visa applications in 2023, said VFS South Asia Head Vishal Jairath. In comparison to the pre-pandemic numbers, visa application volumes from India reached 93% of the 2019 levels.

“We continued to witness robust demand from India and the entire South Asia region in 2022 which led to an extended peak outbound travel season with steady volumes witnessed throughout the year. We remain committed to providing exceptional customer service through technology-led, seamless, highly secure and reliable solutions,” said Jairath.

Jairath added that applicants must of wary of fake websites/social media pages impersonating VFS Global and selling appointments in exchange of money. “Appointments are free and available only on on first come; first serve basis. As a responsible service provider, we will continue to create awareness against the menace and urge applicants to plan their travel early.”

Strong demand for personalised services continued to be a defining trend in the 2023 visa application patterns as well, Jairath said. VFS Global recorded a strong uptick in customised services such as the Visa At Your Doorstep (VAYD) service that empowers applicants to complete their entire visa application submission process from the comfort of their homes or any other location of their choice. Through this premium service, customers can submit their applications, enroll for biometrics, and get their passport couriered back to their location of choice. VAYD bookings in 2023 in India registered around five-fold increase when compared to 2019. 

VFS Global offers VAYD services for 16 countries in India – Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Switzerland, and UK.

Similarly, the demand for Premium Lounge, an optional service which provides end-to-end personalised assistance with visa application submission from the comfort of a lounge, is rising with the rise in application volumes. Another service named Prime Time, which allows visa application submission outside of working hours and even on weekends, has seen a healthy adoption since pandemic. 

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC and Reuters correspondent and author of books on South Asian conflicts.

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