Indian missions in Australia outsource visa work

By Neena Bhandari, IANS

Sydney : The plush new India Passport and Visa Services Centre opened by the Indian consulate here Thursday will provide welcome relief to those who have sweated in long queues to get an Indian passport, visa or Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card.

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The burgeoning demand for Indian visas in Australia made it necessary for the High Commission and consulates to outsource the receipt and delivery of passports, visas and OCI cards to a private company, VFS Global, a subsidiary of the Kuoni Travel Group’s India branch.

Indian Consul General in Sydney Sujan Chinoy told IANS: “The opening of the centre in Sydney is especially significant given the increasing people to people links between the two countries, two-way trade and investment flows, growing diaspora and tourism links.”

Bilateral trade between Australia and India is worth A$11.2 billion (US$10.30 billion) per year. India is the third largest source of international immigrants and second largest source of skilled migrants and international students in Australia.

50,000 Australians travelled to India in 2003; the number shot up to 106,000 in 2006.

“The stage is set for deepening this engagement and it is important to focus on core areas and provide better services to facilitate these exchanges. We will be the back office and the new centre will be our extension office,” Chinoy told IANS.

VFS Global, to be called VFS Services Australia Pty Ltd. here, will manage all the administrative tasks relating to passports, visas and OCI cards while the diplomatic missions will focus on the key tasks of assessment and interview.

Sydney is the second of the six centres opened in Australia. Indian High Commissioner to Australia Sujatha Singh inaugurated the first in Canberra Jan 30. More centres will be opened soon – in Melbourne March 4, Brisbane March 14, Perth March 28 and Adelaide April 18.

Indian missions in Thailand, China, France, Sri Lanka and Britain have also outsourced visa services to VFS Global.

VFS Global’s Senior Vice-President for North Asia and Australia Kishen Singh told IANS: “We are committed to providing services that will add value to the consulate services. We are looking at processing about 130,000 applications this year.”

The centres will have a vending machine, photo cubicle, facility for lodgement and retrieval at the same time, courier delivery option and longer opening hours.

Travel Express Courier Systems Pty Ltd’s Manager Operations Mick Lippmann said: “We deal mostly with Australian passport holders and we have long felt the need for a faster turnaround time and more slim line documentation requirements for Indian visas. We are hoping the new centre will provide efficiency and flexibility as some of our other 20 consulate clients do.”

The company will also offer prompt responses to queries and will have a complaint resolution policy that entails getting in touch with the applicant within 24 hours and informing him or her about the progress of the application.

Charmaine Clare, a travel specialist with INCA Tours in Wyong, New South Wales, told IANS: “We deal with group tours and have to apply for visas in bulk. The new centre will make it easier for us to track the progress of the application on the Internet and expedite turnaround time.”

VFS Global has also been contracted by the Australian High Commission in New Delhi for processing visa applications. About 85,000 Indians visited Australia last year.