First-hand experience at the shambolic VFS.Global visa office in London
I recently applied for a Schengen visa through VFS.Global in London and was told to ‘sit down or go home’ when I went to collect my passport.
Why do people applying for Schengen visas have to put up with and even pay for this kind of treatment?
Travel and tourism provides over 17 million jobs (eurostat, 2013) in Europe and is one of the continent’s main sources of income. Many tourists come from non-European countries and are required to apply for Schengen visas in order to enter and travel around the EU – they can either do this through embassies directly (discouraged by most countries) or via VFS.Global.
What is VFS Global?
VFS.Global is an agency which processes visas; it acts as a middleman between embassies and applicants. It costs extra to apply for a visa through VFS.Global - the service charge of around £24 is added to the visa, meaning most people pay around £75 for a Schengen visa.
The extra cost is generally deemed to be worthwhile because VFS claim to be a fast, efficient service – they were even named ‘Service Provider of the Year’ at a recent awards ceremony in London.
Or so I thought
It all started with the online booking and application form. It took over two hours to complete because the screen kept freezing, the information refused to save and the form would not accept my email address.
After a lengthy conversation with a customer service agent (based in India and available on a premium phone number) an appointment was made for a date at the beginning of June at 11:00 A.M.
The day of the appointment came and - despite arriving on time - it took over five hours to submit the application. There were so many people at the visa centre that the queue flowed out of the office, onto the street and up the path.
When asked, an employee said that the delay was due to VFS being ‘short-staffed’.
Once the visa was processed (three days later, the only impressive part of the entire process) I received a notification to say that it could be collected Monday to Friday between 17:00 and 18:30.
I arrived at the visa office early but was strictly told that there would be no queuing for collections until after 17:00. I returned to the office again at 17:00 to find that VFS had in fact been issuing queue numbers to people for collections since 16:30.
The hall was already completely full – people were piling up against the back wall, standing outside the door and sitting on the floor. The toilets were out of order, the announcement screen seemed to be jammed and the microphone to call out ticket numbers was no longer working.
After around half an hour of waiting a staff member stood at the front of the room and called ticket numbers 900 to 930 to collect their passports - a crowd surged forward, many of whose numbers were not within the 900-930 block. People started to push in front of each other and bicker over who was supposed to be first in line.
It was at this point that a member of staff elbowed his way through the crowd and shouted something to the effect of 'oi, if you don't all behave I will send you away without collecting your passports. You can either sit down or go home'.
Slowly people started to slink back into their seats or edge towards the back of the room again.
After about an hour of waiting I collected my passport and made a quick exit – happy in the knowledge that, at least for now, my time at the dreaded VFS office (located in the ‘battleship building’ which is quite an appropriate name) had come to an end.
‘I feel like a criminal…’
A Jamaican applicant sitting behind me said ‘I feel like a criminal. All I want to do is go on holiday. Why are we being treated like this?’
The concept of providing visas fast and efficiently is a good one, but VFS.Global gets it so wrong. All people want to do is visit Europe, spend money and have a holiday – why do they need to be treated like third class citizens to do so?
eurostat, 2013. Tourism satellite accounts in Europe (online). European commissions publication office. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Available at: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-TC-13-006/EN/KS-TC-13-006-EN.PDF Accessed on: 01 July 2014