Many people have started to question the role of the VFS in immigration to South Africa. As background, the Department of Home Affairs made the decision to outsource certain parts of the application process for obtaining a visa or permit for South African immigration.
The decision to outsource, was in line with that of governments all over the world, but with one big difference – whereas the international trend was to seek a third party provider only for applications made OUTSIDE of their borders, the South African DHA made the decision to outsource these functions INSIDE their borders.
The apparent rationale behind this was a lack of budget and a seeming admission from the DHA that current processes were ineffective. Kudos is deserved for this frank admission.
Apart from the additional cost factor to applicants, the news was generally welcomed by those in the industry and applicants alike. There was a hope that this would lead to a more welcoming environment, better service and quicker turn around times.
Their role as they describe it on their website:
- VFS Global manages Visa Facilitation Centres for Department of Home Affairs in South Africa, where you should submit your completed application form, supporting documents and biometric data.
- Your visa application will be processed and decided by Department of Home Affairs, Head Office in Pretoria. VFS Global does not, play any part in or influence the outcome of your application process.
- The company will not render any advisory services but merely technical services relating to the submission of applications which include compliance with the checklist of requirements as instructed by the Department of Home Affairs.
- In addition, VFS Global will handover outcomes to applicants in the form of visa and permit labels, rejection letters, appeals and any other document destined for clients.
Intergate welcomed this development and we looked forward to a smoother immigration process for all applicants.
However 6 months in we are seeing a number of issues that are arising:
For the record, and to avoid any suspicions of an ulterior motive, let us first disclose that Intergate Visalink (our sister company) operate visa application centres for German Schengen Visas, we did not however take part in the tender process for the South African application centres.
- The Fees:
It did not start well with the fee being announced of R1350 rand – payable in addition to the normal DHA fees.
The fee, which was agreed on with the department, covered the cost of 11 new VFS centres across the country, the 100 or so staff needed as well as the provision of biometric services.
The fact is that this charge is not just more expensive than any over visa application centre provider but is also far more expensive than what VFS charge applicants for other countries.
Let us take for example the below VFS fees in South Africa
- For a visa to New Zealand ZAR 546
- For a visa to Sweden ZAR 390
- For a visa to Greece ZAR 280
We repeat the charge for South African immigration applications is ZAR 1350 – significantly higher. Even VFS in UK offering Belgium visa charge just GBP 24.
VFS generated about R2.4 billion in revenue from all of its contracts last year, according to its parent company’s annual report.
That revenue came off the back of 18 million visa applications, meaning average revenue was a relatively paltry R135 per application.
That figure and the R1 350 charged locally are “not comparable at all”, says chief operations officer for Africa, Jiten Vyas. According to him, the price follows the complexity of the solution with regards to infrastructure, staff and the technologies requested.
“There are some contracts where there are very low requirements for these factors. In fact, for one major contract we do not even have an application centre.”
This we find hard to believe. The requirements for a visa application centre are very similar and there is no rationale explanation as to why the fee levied for a South African application is so high.
The contract with the Department lasts five years and promises about 100 000 applicants a year. That amounts to about R650 million in revenue or R135 million a year before income from additional services. Such a their premier lounge at an additional R500 per applicant – which incidentally has a much reduced waiting time for an appointment. These figures do not include the recent Zimbabwean Visa applications which could be as much as another 250,000 applications.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has dismissed questions around the new fee by insisting that foreign citizens applying for visas are in any case supposed to prove a certain income and that R1 350 is “actually nothing” in many foreign currencies. Again we cannot agree and may we also remind the Minister many of these applicants are married to South Africans.
So what do you think? R1350 between 200% and 400% higher than any other country! Some justification would be welcome.
- Waiting times
Maybe the justification is in the waiting times, surely ZAR 1350 would see applicants in and out in 15 minutes as the large fee will surely mean that VFS can overstaff in terms of resources. After all with a ZAR 135 million rand a year budget to play with there is ample room to train and recruit adequate staff.
The reality is that some applicants are waiting hours and hours, with young children as they make their applications. The record to date being an astounding 7 hours where out of 10 or so counters only 3 were manned!
- Ease of getting an appointment
It was also hoped that making an appointment might be a quicker process, well here is the current waiting times:
Cape Town- Regular fee service: 19 January 2015 and Premium lounge: 1-2 weeks
Johannesburg-Regular fee service: March 2015 and Premium lounge: 3 weeks
Port Elizabeth- Regular fee service: 19 February 2015 and Premium lounge: in N/A
Durban- Regular service: 1 week and Premium 2 days
In essence these lack of appointments are placing people who need to renew visas in a situation where they will become illegal. Not because of their own fault but because VFS cannot give them an appointment. It is also severely threatens our tourist trade with visitors who like to extend their stay beyond 3 months now highly unlikely to be able to do so.
When there are issues you look for a response, we got one. VFS announced that they would be closing their offices from 22 December 2014- 5th January 2015. They have made provision for 2 ‘collection only’ days on the 22nd the 23rd of December 2014.
Rather than open extra hours or extra days and put right what is currently wrong they go on holiday.
It would seem this applies only to the South African visa centres they run though:
What a Visa centre is normally obliged to provide:
Tender documents for applying to run a visa centre are readily available, and are normally quite specific in terms of what the provider must supply and what they may charge. In fact the price is an absolute must when it comes to any tender application. When it came to South Africa, and the announcement of the awarding of the tender document, the price apparently, was still under discussion and would be announced later. This was confirmed at meetings held in Johannesburg and Cape Town attended by Immigration practitioners with presenters from both VFS and the DHA.
It must be questioned as to how this is possible when pricing plays such a major role in the decision as to who to grant the tender to and one also wonders at what price the other companies who tendered for the contract desired.
Further there is normally a limit to what charges can be made and increases over the period of time of the contract.
- Typically phone calls for advice are to be free of charge and answered within one minute
Applicants must be processed in a certain time period in the application centre (standard 20 – 30 minutes)
- Opening hours – included extended hours to facilitate applicants wishing to submit in the evenings.
- Days of closure – typicality just weekends and official holidays.
- Service fees should be lower than DHA fees.
- Urgent applicants always need to be accommodated within the same day
- The list goes on
The main point here is that the market for visa application centres is extremely competitive, the DHA was in a position to dictate the standards they expected, the penalties if not met and ultimately to a large degree the pricing.
The DHA we hope are not only aware of these issues but are addressing them with VFS. VFS is a commercial company and the whole point of outsourcing the submission and collection process was to improve efficiency. This to date is not happening as it should be. Commercial companies who don’t perform are penalised and have contracts withdrawn.
We sincerely hope for improvement in the New Year and for the DHA to make comment on what they are doing to manage an outsource which is clearly currently not keeping up to the standards of a normal Visa Application operation.
You can contact Intergate Immigration here