As the COVID-19 crisis plays out around us, it can be hard to think forward to the day when international travel resumes. Travellers will once more be preparing trips abroad for work, study, or leisure and many of them will require a visa. Biometric enrolment, undertaken during a face-to-face visa appointment, is now standard for visa applications to many countries. At TLScontact we are focused on finding ways to make this process as smooth as possible for applicants, without compromising security. This will be more important than ever when the current travel restrictions are lifted. In this article, we explain some of the different solutions that we have been implementing and that we will continue to deploy once our operations reopen.
Under the Schengen visa code, applicants who have already obtained a Schengen visa over the previous 59 months do not need to resubmit their biometric data for a new application. At TLScontact, this has allowed us to introduce fast-track counters for these visa customers, where they can simply submit their application and passport and skip the biometric enrolment step. This obviously speeds up the process for applicants at our centres, improving the customer experience. In certain cases, applicants can even submit their visa application and passport by post.
There is also increasing interest from governments and visa applicants for on demand mobile visa services. These services can offer the right compromise, allowing a trusted visa outsourcing partner to carry out secure biometric enrolment at a secure location agreed with the traveller, using a mobile biometrics kit, thus saving them a trip to the visa application centre. This is done using the latest technologies and with all the same safeguards as for on-site biometric enrolment. Two agents are present, accompanied by a security guard, and to ensure additional security a secure VPN is used to transfer biometric data to the client server after enrolment.
At TLScontact, we are implementing mobile biometric solutions in a range of different ways, to facilitate the visa process for both groups and individuals in a number of different countries.
Increasing geographical coverage for French visa applications
For example, in Gabon, we introduced a new service for French visa applicants in Port-Gentil in 2019, allowing them to apply locally for their visa rather than having to make a lengthy journey to our visa centre in the capital, Libreville. Twice a month, agents from our Libreville centre travel to Port-Gentil to collect applications and biometric data from visa customers, in space set aside at the local French chancellery. Applications are then processed in Libreville and applicants can use our express courier return service to have their passport sent back to them directly once a decision has been made on their application.
Facilitating group visa applications for travel agencies in China and South-East Asia
In China and South-East Asia, where people wishing to visit Europe often choose to join group trips organised by travel agencies, we have set up a dedicated service to facilitate group visa applications. The agency submits the application forms for all group members and then contacts our local team to arrange for them to collect the passports and biometric data of all those travelling on a specific date, either at the agency or in a local hotel. In countries such as Thailand or Indonesia, where visa centres are generally situated in the capital city, this can make it easier and faster to coordinate visa applications for groups living in other parts of the country.
Assisting groups and individuals in Europe who require a UK visa
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, our on demand mobile visa service was also proving very popular in Europe, for people in need of a visa to travel to the United Kingdom. Using teams based in our visa centres across the continent and a number of mobile biometric kits, we can provide made-to-measure application services for both individuals who are too busy to come to one of our centres, and large groups like sports teams, theatre companies and groups of tourists planning a package tour to the UK.
There are considerable benefits to offering mobile visa services, for both our government clients and for our visa customers. While these services clearly improve customer experience, they can also encourage travel to our client countries, by simplifying the visa application process.
The future of biometric enrolment: Self-service kiosks?
Looking to the future, at TLScontact we are also investigating other ways in which we can facilitate the biometric enrolment process for our visa customers around the world. One potential solution is the installation of secure self-service biometric kiosks in certain key locations, such as banks or shopping centres. The technology already exists and we have been testing our own self-service kiosks. However, before rolling out this sort of solution, it will obviously be vital to put additional safeguards in place to eliminate the potential risk of fraud.
Work on this, and other initiatives, continues regardless of the current travel restrictions. We are committed to continuing to provide the most innovative, simple and safe application processes to both government clients and visa applicants as we look forward to playing an ongoing role in the future of global travel.
By Antoine Rault