VFS Global’s Amit Kumar Sharma: ‘We process 700,000 visa applications in the US alone’

Ritu Jha–

Amit Kumar Sharma and his team are busy. This year, they processed 700,000 visa applications in the US alone. As the head of American operations at Visa Facilitation Services Global (VFS Global), Sharma’s responsibility is to keep the wheels of visa protocols and processes running smoothly. It’s not easy, of course, considering VFS is one of the world’s largest organizations in its category, working with 67 partner governments across 140 countries.

In the Americas, Sharma — a 15-year veteran at VFS — told indica in an interview, the “United States is one of our larger markets, where we operate for several governments in Washington DC, New York and San Francisco.” He said, “San Francisco is the third largest city for us in the US. We have a visa application center that represents several governments.” He is based out of the Washington, DC, office, and is responsible for North America, South America and the Caribbean. 

As part of its expanding suite of services, VFS recently launched ‘Visa at Your Doorstep’, a service for certain US clients. Sharma told indica, “Visa at your doorstep is gaining popularity in the US. People can apply for visas of certain partnering countries from the comfort of their home or office. They do not need to come to the VFS center at all.”

VFS Global began its US operations during the 2016-17 financial year, and has been facilitating consular camps and temporary enrolment locations in conjunction with the client governments. “In the US, we have been working for the Indian government since 2020,” Sharma said. “Prior to that, we have been working for other client governments in the US.”

Sharma told indica that while Covid hit the entire world’s travel and tourism industry, the year before Covid has to be treated like a benchmark. “The US scenario (during Covid) was similar to other countries,” he said. “Like most organizations, we took the time to upgrade processes and systems. The numbers came back to the 2019 level only in 2023. There could still be some regions or some markets that may not have touched the same volume, but overall, at a global level, those trends are back. In the US, for instance, we did slightly more business in 2023 than in 2019.” Sharma said. “In the US, VFS processes more than 700,000 applications.”

It is no secret that the the travel and tourism sector was the first to be hit by Covid, and easily the last to recover. “It was our most difficult period,” he said. “However, it also helped us become resilient and adopt innovative solutions. We used the time to focus on our people, and train them well. Last year — 2023 — was our first full year after recovery. We are back on track.”

Sharma said that the demand for visas depends on the time of the year. For instance, in August and September, student travel is high. “During summer, family travel is high, and during special occasions such as Diwali, a lot of people travel to India. If you have to pick the top two categories for the US, it would be passport renewals and OCI card submission applications. OCI is also becoming increasingly popular with the Indian diaspora as it comes with lifetime validity and needs to be updated only twice — at age 20 and 50.”

After Sharma took charge in the US, he focused on hosting consular camps and reaching locations where visa centers were not present. “Over the last six to eight months, we have been conducting consular camps on weekends or as per the needs of the diaspora. We have processed over 10,000 applications in consular camps. Whatever services are available in visa centers, are available at these consular camps. We check applications and also submit them so that applicants don’t need to travel elsewhere for this. Last year, we processed 400,000 applications including both visa applications, OCI and passports.”

He said that the from the perspective of visa applications, VFS encourages and educates people about applying in advance so that when they plan their travel, it’s a seamless experience. “Applicants can view the processing times on the VFS Global website and apply accordingly. We also recommend complete documentation while submitting the application.”

He said artificial intelligence is a key focus area for VFS Global. “AI is key. Our visa application and processes are designed in close consultation with the governments. People can apply for appointments from their phones, and mobile apps. Some projects are being piloted in different parts of the world in conjunction with client governments.” 

Such technological advancements enable people to opt for personalized services from the comfort of their homes. “When an applicant books this service, our team visits them and completes the entire process in half an hour. We carry biometric kits, click live photos and facilitate the visa application submission. This entire process is done under CCTV coverage,” Sharma explained. “This service is also popular with corporates for bigger groups, universities and colleges and discerning individuals who utilize this more for themselves and their elderly parents, increasingly more after COVID.”

Related posts