• Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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Foreign firms to continue visa operations at Colombo Airport despite protests

Visas were issued either online or on arrival, managed by the Department of Immigration and Emigration before March 2024. (Photo Credit:iStock)

By: Vibhuti Pathak

The immigration authorities on Sunday (5) said the foreign companies facilitating visa services for travellers at the Bandaranaike International Airport here will maintain their operations. There was a delay at the visa-on-arrival counter due to a technical fault on Wednesday (1) which will be rectified in the next week, due to which they witnessed protests by tourists against the foreign companies for their poor visa services.

The incident involved a Sri Lankan traveller who recorded his disappointment after airport officials refused to grant a visa to his partner. The traveller expressed concern that Indian nationals were operating the visa counter instead of Sri Lankan officials, the video of which had gone viral on social media.

The issue stems from changes in the country’s visa issuance process. Historically, visas were issued either online or on arrival, managed by the Department of Immigration and Emigration. However, in March of this year, the Cabinet of Ministers decided to outsource this process to a third party, VFS Global, a foreign company.

Since April 16, VFS Global has been responsible for visa issuance. This change also brought alterations in visa fees. Previously, the online visa fee was £39, but it has now increased to £56.25, along with the introduction of Convenience and facility fees totalling £18.99, resulting in a total fee of £75.58.

The incident unfolded due to the rejection of a visa application, leading to a heated argument and subsequent withdrawal of VFS Global from visa issuance activities. However, immigration officials reverted to the previous method of issuing visas at the prior rates after the incident.

In response to inquiries, Viyani Gunathilaka, the Secretary of the Ministry of Public Security, attributed the temporary suspension of on-arrival visa issuance to a technical glitch, reassuring that the situation has been resolved.

Subsequently, the immigration department took control of the visa-on-arrival counters as the private staff manning the counters had left following the protests.

The services of foreign companies like GBS Technology Services and IVS Global FZCO in partnership with VFS VF Worldwide Holdings Ltd would be continued at the Bandaranaike International Airport, as stated by a senior immigration department official.

Although there were allegations, that the concerned companies were Indian, but the Indian High Commission in Colombo clarified that the companies were not Indian. They released a statement stating, “The companies referred to in these reports are not India-based or Indian and are headquartered elsewhere. Any reference to India in this context is unwarranted, it said in response to media queries.”

It was earlier alleged that the companies concerned were Indian. However, the Indian High Commission in Colombo has clarified that the companies were not Indian firms.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the High Commission of India said, We have seen reports and comments including in social media regarding Indian companies taking over visa issuance at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), Colombo.

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