The travel and tourism industry, unarguably, is one of the most affected sectors since the onset of COVID-19. With country borders sealed, cities brought to a standstill and all transportation stationary, it is difficult to imagine the recovery trajectory of travel. Industry experts suggest that while travel will eventually recover in stages, we should expect a shift in both travel norms and traveller behaviour. Travel news is on hold but your plans can still be made for later.
VFS Global addresses some common questions on every traveller’s mind and sharing guidelines to assuage their concerns and help navigate their holiday plans once international borders open again.
What happens to passports submitted before services were suspended?
Following the national lockdown in India, Visa Application Centres had to shut down operations in adherence to directives from central and local authorities and diplomatic missions. When the Visa Application Centres are allowed to re-open, VFS Global will be able to evaluate at which stage of assessment each application is and resume the applicant return process accordingly.
Will Visa Application Centres open for appointments once the national lockdown lifts?
Visa Application Centres in any city/country operate according to the directives of the central and local authorities and the diplomatic mission/the country being applied to. In some cases, even if central/local authorities lift the lockdown, the country you are applying to may not be accepting visa applications. In this scenario, an open Visa Application Centre might not serve your purpose. Make sure you’re checking regulations by not only your government, but also that of the country you plan to visit.
What are health and safety precautions implemented at the centres?
As per guidelines prescribed by the World Health Organization, as well as local authorities, both customers and employees at Visa Application Centres will be subject to body temperature checks, face masks and gloves — for their own protection and that of others. Centres are also maintaining preventive measures such as disinfecting high-contact surfaces, use of hand sanitizers, and social distancing practices.
When services resume, can one avoid visiting a Visa Application Centre as a social distancing precaution?
Once services resume, customers who wish to avoid visiting public places can also use optional services, such as the Visa At Your Doorstep service for application submission — with this service, trained VFS Global staff will visit the customer’s location of choice (home, office, etc.) to complete the visa application submission process and/or biometric enrolment if needed, while maintaining necessary health precautions. In India, this service is available for select destination countries only, and will resume after lockdown subject to approvals from the concerned embassy/consulate.
Customers using regular services as well are encouraged to opt for courier services to get their passports back (once the centres re-open), to avoid crowding as a precautionary measure.
Would we be required to submit medical history for visa applications?
Medical reports are usually a part of required documentation in some visa applications, though they may or may not be related to COVID-19. However, as governments may beef up health screening measures going forward, make sure you’ve carefully been through the updated document checklist requirements for the country you’re visiting, in case of any medical and vaccination histories are required as part of your visa application.
What about work and residency permits?
Although most governments have currently suspended travel visa services, customers may still be able to apply for other categories such as long-stay visas or residence permits. However, this remains limited to only a few countries. Several countries have put in place border control measures, temporarily disallowing certain non-essential travelers to submit visa applications. Nevertheless, if you already hold a valid work or residence permit, you may still be able to enter some countries, despite entry restrictions.
What happens to a valid visa, if the country in question has restricted/banned travel?
Advisories for various countries differ with regards to who can enter, irrespective of whether they hold a valid visa or not. Some countries have imposed border control measures that only allow citizens, residents, or specific permit holders to enter the country, and disallow other non-essential travellers even if they hold a valid visa.
Citizens who are yet to travel and whose existing visa has expired or is expiring soon can re-apply for a fresh visa when operations resume. Those who had already travelled before lockdown to a foreign country and whose visas are due to expire soon, are urged to reach out to the concerned embassy/consulate for assistance.
Given the fluid ongoing scenarios and threads of misinformation, being armed with the correct data about your travel destination, as well your own country, are paramount before you set out on your next journey. In order to aid customer queries and concerns, VFS Global has set up a dedicated webpage for COVID-19 customer advisories that is updated daily and covers visa application processes for the 64 governments they serve worldwide. (IANS)