BIKO: Why I don’t intervene in visa matters

VFS is the world’s largest outsourcing and technology services specialists for governments and diplomatic missions. Since inception in 2001, they have processed 110 million visa applications for the 48 governments they represent in the 122 countries worldwide.

They set up shop in Kenya eight years ago, representing eight governments locally and employ 25 people in the Kenyan office.

Jiten, who sits in South Africa, joined the company in 2003 as Zonal Manager- Western India and has had roles in London, Malaysia, Singapore and now Africa. Because of his mad schedule, we had a Skype conversation. He was polite to a fault, extremely diplomatic and courteous.

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I’m sorry, but has anyone told you that your hair resembles Donald Trump’s hair?

(Laughs) Does it? Oh no. I will have you know that this is my real hair, it’s not a wig or anything. Listen, next time I come down to Kenya or you come to South Africa, let’s have a coffee and you can feel it for yourself.

I can’t wait. How did VFS start? Is there a great story behind it?

Actually there is, and this is a true story. My boss, Zubin Karkaria, CEO VFS Global Group was in India for some business many years ago, must have been in 2001 and he saw the amount of applicants queueing outside the US Consulate and he asked if a small lounge would be made available for them or some sort of a waiting area as they waited and just like that, the idea came to life.

You realise that its become so difficult to obtain a visa, don’t you?

There is that perception that it’s very difficult now, and I appreciate those concerns but I think having these application centres has made it easier and more transparent. I mean eight years back you would experience really long queues with senior citizens, children and middle-men who were not exactly scrupulous.

We have tackled these challenges but also as authorised representatives of these governments we have guidelines we work within for the sake of transparency and ultimately the decisions lie with our clients.

Do you think the process of obtaining visas will only get harder or will things change in future?

First, because we are always streamlining the system it will definitely get easier for Kenyans to get Visa, given that we process about 25,000 applications annually. The process shouldn’t get any harder because all the information and requirements are always available to applicants to ensure that the sanctity of the process is preserved.

Do you think there are certain groups of people who are subjected to some form of discrimination or the other based on race, marital status, sex, or religion?

In my experience the requirements of certain visa categories are clearly laid out by respective governments, these are transparent on the respective websites.

As representative of our clients, our job as you would realise is only limited to collection and management of application documents and the ultimate decision making of course lies with the consulates who have their set of rules and government. However, my honest opinion? I wouldn’t comment on the contrary when I don’t have any evidence to refute it.

Have you ever been denied a visa?

Thankfully I have never been denied one. I have always followed the process. To be honest, Jackson, for us and all individuals, if I want to travel I present my case in an absolute honest way and adhere to all that is needed.

As VFS, do you feel that you have distanced the close interaction between applicant and these consulates, which might lose some of the nuances that they might pick to either give or deny visas?

Good point you raise. VFS manages front-end of application process but what also happens is that when we receive these applications and transfer them to embassies, many a times applicants are invited to come for second interviews.
When need be, the embassies will always request for a face-to-face interview.

Based on you data, which country is popular with Kenyans?

I think most Kenyans are headed to Europe a lot, this could be because the middle class is emerging faster and they are able to travel for business, leisure or study. We have had a 20 per cent increase in the past couple of years.

If you – as Jiten – were to disappear to a place where nobody knows you and start a new life, which country would that be?

(Laughs) In today’s time I can’t think of many countries to disappear to and most importantly not to be caught. Technology is here and it’s very hard given the exchange of data and intelligence between countries, you may escape for a short period and you will be caught.

What I meant was, what is your favourite destination?

Oh, (chuckle) Malaysia and UK.

Why the UK?

(Laughs) I knew you would ask. I worked there in the 90’s it was slightly more different, if you look at it from career point of view, plus it’s good to have it in your CV. Its modern environment and yet cultural, there is also the ease of travel.

If you were a country, what country would you be?

I would be India. (Laughs)

Why?

It’s got a population of over 1.2 billion, the most fantastic amalgamation of cultures, values, races, which is kind of similar to your country Kenya because of the growing youth nation. It’s very easy for people to say it has major challenges but which country doesn’t have challenges? I think what is important is what a country brings out of you.

How old are you now?

44.

What do you love about your 40’s?

I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon and now that I am where I am, I think it’s a testimony that hard work pays and that for me, to b at this age, is a great blessing.

Do you sometimes have friends asking you to intervene to get visas?

(Laughs) I think like any other job, you will always get those people who want special favours, which unfortunately I can’t handle. I always ask them, if you work for say Diageo and I ask you for a bottle of Johnnie Walker every two weeks, how would you feel about that? Because it’s the same thing. Would you ask your dentist friend to whiten your teeth when you meet him at a cocktail function?

Kids?

Two boys, just finished university, One is in Sydney, Australia and another in South Africa.

What do you do for fun?

I play squash. I really enjoy it as a form of exercise and relaxation. I’m a foodie as well, I love bars and restaurants given that my background is in the hotel industry so food and drink and wine is almost ingrained.

SOURCE: BUSINESS DAILY