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Consular News– Embassy 61

The future of visas is biometric

Mrinal Mandal of VFS Global explained the benefits and the challenges of biometric visas.

Since 20 November 2015, all Schengen visas issued in the UK have to be biometric. This marks the final phase of the rollout of biometric visas for Schengen states.

Advantages
A number of countries have opted to go down the biometric route because of the security benefits. Biometric visas combat visa fraud, thereby lowering security risks such as identity theft, illegal immigration, organised crime and terrorism.

The sharing of biometric information on the Schengen’s Visa Information System (VIS) also helps to combat so-called ‘visa-shopping’ in the free travel area where in the past, failed applicants would simply reapply at other EU consulates. 

In addition to the many security benefits of biometric visas, they also facilitate visa applications for the genuine traveller and expedite border checks and the use of border e-gates.

The introduction of biometrics also acts as a deterrent for would-be fraudulent activity.

Challenges
To issue biometric visas, applicants need to attend in person to enrol their biometric data (fingerprinting). Where previously visas could be issued by post, consulates may lack the capacity to accommodate applicants, resulting in long waiting times and overcrowding.

Moreover, ministries need to invest in significant hardware (fingerprint scanners, cameras), interoperable software and trained staff to ensure that reliable data is captured.

Outsourcing offers an affordable solution for countries wishing to roll out a biometric visas programme without having to invest in expensive hardware, software and trained staff

Outsourcing offers an affordable solution for countries wishing to roll out a biometric visas programme without having to invest in expensive hardware, software and trained staff

Security measures also need to be put in place to ensure that the sensitive biometric data is stored safely. As data is stored for up to five years, sub-standard biometric enrolment can have serious consequences for the applicant.

Outsourcing solutions
Using visa facilitation services is a solution used by many consulates in the UK as it strikes a balance between cost, security and customer service. Outfits such as VFS Global can provide the space, high-tech equipment, data security and trained staff for a seamless transition to biometrics.

Service providers can also establish visa application centres (VACs) in areas of high demand or in multiple centres across the country. This is especially advantageous in large countries such as Russia, China or India.

VFS is constantly innovating to respond to the needs of its client governments. For those consulates with communities scattered around the country, they can offer a mobile biometrics kit, complete with scanners and cameras, which can be taken to the community. This also presents a useful solution when issuing visas for for travel or school groups.


Mrinal Mandal and Ashwin Balse of VFS Global with one of their mobile biometric kits

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