VFS Global is here to stay for at least 12 years, says Tiran

Colombo, May 6 (Daily Mirror) - Despite widespread accusations of handing over the contract for on-arrival visa issuance to VFS Global, Public Security Minister Tiran Alles maintained today that VFS Global, the foreign company now responsible for handling on-arrival visas on behalf of Sri Lanka at the BIA, will continue to operate for at least 12 years.

Minister Alles held a special press conference regarding the controversy surrounding the matter. He said that the proposal to transfer the new visa system to VFS Global was unanimously passed on November 23 last year without debate in Parliament following Cabinet approval.

"The government had made a policy decision to introduce separate visa categories. Sri Lanka previously only had a 30-day single arrival visa category. Therefore, we introduced several other visa categories," the minister said.

He said that the 30-day visa was fixed at USD 50, however, when passing the said rate, the document was not included, and thus it was not added to the system.

However, the Minister said that the USD 50 rate for a 30-day visa will be implemented from Tuesday (7).

The single-entry 30-day visa is fixed at a price of USD 50, and the double-entry six-month visa is priced at USD 75.

He also noted that the issue of visa fees was part of the adopted proposals, passed in November, but implementation through the ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) was not feasible. Therefore, they had to wait until April 17 to implement the change through the VFS system.

The minister said that due to the errors in the ETA system, this system was changed to upgrade the Immigration and Emigration processes. Accordingly, an agreement was signed with VFS Global for 12 years, he said.

Responding to the incident on Wednesday night (01) where chaos broke out at the BIA following the takeover of on-arrival visa issuance, the minister blamed certain 'corrupt officials' within the Immigration department were responsible for the incident.

The minister said that although the protest regarding this matter was raised on or around May 1st, the VFS started its operations at the airport premises on April 17.

He said that action would be taken against the person who caused a disturbance at the visa issuing section at the Katunayake Airport.

The minister said that steps will also be taken against the officers who recorded the incident.

On the day of the incident, it was alleged that Indians were manning the visa counters at the BIA. However, Minister Alles clarified that VFS Global is not an Indian company, and on that day, the counters were manned by 13 Sri Lankans and that no Indians were present.

"VFS cannot issue or reject VISAs. They can only check the documentation. When the documentation is uploaded, the Immigration and Emigration authorities, using the backend, give their approval," the minister explained.

Responding to allegations regarding why visa issuance was not entrusted to local companies, the minister said, "the cabinet had approved a change in the visa issuance system for two companies over four years. However, during this time they failed to implement it."

Regarding allegations of not calling tenders, the minister said, "we didn't need to call for tenders for this process. VFS sent us a proposal, which we studied and submitted to the cabinet. I don't believe any company could compete against a company like VFS Global."

Pic by Waruna Wanniarachchi

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