In many countries, visa processing continues to be a largely manual, paper-intensive activity. Evolving customer behaviour and technologies, the quest for greater efficiency and sustainability concerns are now accelerating a shift towards a more paperless future. What will the main advantages be?
Visa processing is increasingly moving in the same direction as other formerly paper-intensive industries, such as banking. As the cost of paper processing mounts, digital solutions are becoming increasingly affordable while providing a level of security compatible with the highly sensitive nature of visas. No wonder, then, that a growing number of our government clients have already made the switch and created a nearly complete digital journey for visa processing.
Changing customer habits
Global citizens of all ages are becoming more and more familiar with digital experiences. Smartphones are increasingly ubiquitous and older generations are becoming more at ease with everything digital. A majority of travellers are unlikely to have trouble completing an online visa application form and will often prefer online submission to filling out a document by hand.
The benefits of moving to paperless processes will also be felt by the administrations that decide to take this route. The archiving of paper applications, mandatory for a 12-month period after any Schengen visa application, for example, requires consulates to put in place large storage areas and allocate resources to managing and, ultimately, destroying these archives.
The efficiencies of a paperless process
Figures from the banking sector highlight these hidden costs and of the savings that can be generated through document digitisation. A study published by the international consultancy Deloitte, shows that streamlining processes and adding technology to eliminate paper entirely can reduce operating costs by as much as 25%, with a reduction of between 60% and 70% of the associated costs of records management.
These figures are particularly interesting because of the parallels between the banking and visa sectors, both of which make extensive use of forms and archives and handle very sensitive information. They also give us a sense of the efficiencies that are possible when an organisation moves a paper-based process online. For countries where the interior ministry is in charge of visa decision-making, this can now be centralised, and this is the route that several of our government clients have already taken. For those countries where visa applications are processed at the consulate level, digitisation means that it is possible to support a consular team that might be under-staffed or help them to manage a peak in demand during the high season, thanks to reinforcements provided from a distance, at the ministry level.
Moving to a paperless process used to be easier said than done, particularly for security reasons. Technological advances have removed that barrier, making it possible to secure the digitisation process, as well as the storage and transfer of digital files. TLScontact has developed a solution specifically designed to support applications for citizen services such as visas. TLSdocuments is a secure document digitisation and management system which has helped a number of our government clients to transform their visa application process away from a paper-based system. TLSdocuments can be used for on-site scanning of customer passports and supporting documents. It also allows customer self-service, giving visa applicants the option to scan and upload their documents themselves before their visa appointment, using a desktop or mobile device. Documents are signed at source and transferred to government servers using end-to-end encryption, before being deleted from our systems in accordance with strict purge rules.
The forthcoming digital revolution
The visa application process will no doubt become increasingly digitalised, making it more efficient, less costly and better for the overall customer experience. Digitalisation also brings with it clear environmental benefits. To go back to the example of TLSdocuments, we estimate that our solution currently enables 23 million pages of documentation to be scanned instead of printed each year, and generates annual savings of 1,520 tons of CO2.
Ultimately, we could see a complete transformation of the visa application process, going beyond just document digitisation to encompass remote biometric enrolment. However, the end result will probably be some form of coexistence of the digital and the physical throughout the entire process, with different mixes depending on the local context and the client country’s own preferences. This is what at TLScontact we call ‘smart digitalisation’, striking the right balance between cost reduction, ease of use and security.
Article written by Céline Durnez, Head of Product Portfolio Management
& Pedro Alfama, Product Manager