The ongoing developments around Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) globally have led to many governments and authorities implement stringent safety measures to tackle its impact. Measures such as increased travel restrictions and, in most countries, complete travel bans restricting all international travel, have created a seismic shift in the tourism and travel supply chain.
Thus, as the ‘new normal’ sets in across the globe, many travellers have serious questions regarding their visa or permit processing and the right source of information for the same. While governments, embassies and consulates continue to issue travel advisories regularly to keep consumers informed on restrictions, it remains the responsibility of the traveller to check if the country they wish to travel to is accepting visa applications.
At VFS Global, the safety of our customers and employees is of utmost importance to us, and considering the current scenario, we pledge to do our part and act responsibly by duly following directives from the respective authorities. As a trusted visa outsourcing and technology services company, VFS Global is committed to share the right updates and information on a timely manner with all our stakeholders to support them through these difficult times.
Although most governments have suspended travel visa services, customers may still be able to apply for other categories such as long-stay visas or residence permits. At present, majority of the governments VFS Global serves have suspended applications for all visa categories. To apply for an extension, customers should check if the concerned Visa Application Centre is open in their city/country.
Getting latest updates on our operations or appointments
As part of our commitment to servicing clients within the parameters of the safety measures set in place by governments, all our Visa Application Centres will re-open based on the directives of the respective client governments/embassy/consulates. Once the Visa Application Centre re-opens, we advise our customers to check if their original appointment can be rescheduled by reaching out to the email ID or helpline mentioned on our country-specific website.
One of the key steps taken by VFS Global to help assuage our customers’ concerns is to form a dedicated COVID-19: CUSTOMER ADVISORIES page on our website for latest updates on operations on behalf of our 64 governments across the world (vfsglobal.com/Covid-19). This page has information regarding our Visa Application Centres globally where services have been temporarily suspended, and can even help answer your questions regarding visa processes.
Apart from checking country-specific pages on our website www.vfsglobal.com, which has all the visa-related information, customers should also visit our official social media handles on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for timely updates.
Status of pending applications and getting refund
Those customers who were issued visas for entry into countries that have now closed their borders may contact the centre or embassy to find out about its validity. In general, for issued visas, fees cannot be refunded, but visas are sometimes valid for several months which can be used for later travel.
If a customer’s visa application is under processing, he or she might still be able to withdraw it and get a refund of the visa fee. However, refund policies vary among governments and are at the sole discretion of the government/embassy/consulate. VFS Global does not decide on visa fee refunds or timeframe.
Getting back your passport submitted before service suspension
At present, our Visa Application Centres are strictly following the instructions of the concerned government and cannot track your application during the assessment process within an embassy or consulate. Our Centre may also be kept open to return passports to customers who have already applied, or for enquiries.
Many countries today are encouraging customers to opt for the optional courier service to get their passports delivered for avoiding unnecessary visits to Visa Application Centres.
Are Residency and Work Permit related applications being accepted?
The case of applying for work and residence permits remains country-specific. Many countries have put in place border control measures, temporarily disallowing certain categories of non-essential travellers to submit visa applications. However, if you already hold a valid work or residence permit, you may still be able to enter some countries, despite entry restrictions.
While all these restrictions might have hampered your immediate travel plans, make sure to use this time to effectively plan for your next family or solo travel when the situation improves. We look forward to servicing you with your journey soon. Until then, stay safe, and we’ll pull through this – TOGETHER!
The writer is Regional Group COO at VFS Global.