• Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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Foreign firms feel victimised after disruption of visa services at Colombo airport

The foreign companies involved had raised their concerns with the Public Security Ministry (Representative image: iStock)

By: Vibhuti Pathak

Two foreign firms have expressed dismay over on arrival visa controversy at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, citing sabotage suspicions during technical glitches. The companies have raised their concerns with the Public Security Ministry.

The government handed over the on-arrival visa services to two foreign companies – GBS-IVS and VFS Global – on April 17, after which issues were raised by tourists regarding the delay of services.

The companies attributed the delay to technical glitches.

The government had handed over the contract of the on-arrival visa issuance to GBS – IVS, a Singaporean company, and the technical part of the process to VFS Global, a multi-national American company.

Last Wednesday (1) night, there was a severe backlog at the on-arrival visa counter at the BIA as the internet failed. This led to VLS Global raising concerns of sabotage to disrupt the service.

As per the sources, the foreign companies involved had raised these concerns with the Public Security Ministry and the government will soon commence a probe. Before GBS-IVS took over the on-arrival visa issuance at the BIA, the counter was handled by the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

As GBS-IVS and VFS Global were delayed in getting the platform back up, the on-arrival visa counter was handed back to the Department of Immigration and Emigration which then continued a smooth operation once again.

“Surprisingly when GBS – IVS and VFS Global were handed over the counter, the internet at the BIA failed and for several hours staff attempted to get the system back online. VFS and GBS have raised these concerns of sabotage with the Public Security Ministry,” a senior source familiar with the incident said.

In December, the Public Security Ministry, led by Tiran Alles, enlisted GBS – IVS and VFS Global to manage on-arrival visas at BIA, with VFS Global overseeing technicalities. A $25 fee increment, totaling £72 per passport, was approved. While VFS Global operates similarly in 67 countries, the breakdown, including staff salaries and data protection funds, wasn’t transparently communicated by Sri Lankan officials.

Amidst controversy, VFS Global and GBS-IVS have expressed feeling victimised by Minister Alles, who has been abroad. Tourism Minister Harin Fernando distanced himself, planning to address the issue in Parliament. VFS Global voiced concern over reputation damage amid political turmoil, hoping for a resolution. Foreign firms often face communication gaps with Sri Lankan authorities, necessitating self-directed damage control in crises, highlighting the government’s communication shortcomings.

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