VFS Global is expecting a 10-12 per cent growth from pre-Covid levels in the number of visa applications processing in 2024. In 2023, the visa outsourcing company had reached 93 per cent of pre covid levels, Vishal Jairath, Senior Vice President and Head of South Asia at VFS Global said.

“If we compare the application volume trends between 2019 and 2023 — 2019 being an important year, the pre pandemic year — we’ve already reached 93 per cent of our pre-pandemic volumes. If we look at the year-on-year growth between 2022 and 2023, we see a 16 per cent growth already, and all of this points to the economy doing well, perhaps the stability and rising income is allowing the people to undertake travel,” Jairath said.

Speaking to businessline on the sidelines of a press briefing, Jairath said that he is confident that the number of applications will surpass at least 10-12 per cent of pre-covid levels.

He said countries like the US, UK and Canada remain the top priority for Indians. Besides this, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland also remain the top priority. Closer home, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, among others.

Speaking about the challenges, Jairath said that over the last few years, there was a demand and mismatch due to which the duration of processing the visas was very high. “In 2022, the number of days it took to process the applications was 60-70 days, which went down to three weeks to six weeks in 2023, and we expect that to go down even further in 2024.”

VFS Global has partnered with 52 sovereign governments in India and provides visa services on their behalf from over 560 visa application centres spread across 19 cities.

Mainly for the US visa for fresh applicants, he said that the duration was at two years, which has now gone down to eight months. He expects it to further go down to less than six months in 2024.

The main issue, according to Jairath, was due to staff shortage and therefore fewer appointments were being given. “For 2024, Switzerland and France have said they will deploy at least 25 per cent more staff, Austria has said it will increase appointments. Canada too has assured to narrow the duration as well.”

Some countries have eased out visa processes, while others have made entry for Indians, visa free. When asked for his comment on the same, he said, “Mainly most countries are making processes digital. We are gearing up on our digital segment. As far as visas are concerned, they are here to stay.