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How a single company ‘silently’ took over the world of visa processing in an age of record migration

Never before have more people been on the move. Globalization, war and climate catastrophes have pushed workers, refugees and migrants to leave their homes at record pace.

And yet budget-conscious governments around the world have increasingly turned to private, for-profit companies to handle visa processing.

Enter VFS Global.

Headquartered in Zurich and Dubai, VFS Global dominates the international visa outsourcing market.

The company, whose acronym stands for Visa Facilitation Services, has grown from being the first of its kind with a single visa office in Mumbai, India two decades ago to a global juggernaut with more than 3,500 visa application centres in 141 countries representing the interests of 65 “client governments.”

To put this into perspective, that’s the equivalent of a new visa centre opening every other day for 20 years.

Read more: Canada to create new program to welcome Ukrainians fleeing Russian invasion

VFS Global’s website says it has processed more than 240 million visa applications since 2001 and collected close to 110 million sets of biometric data (fingerprints and photos) since 2007.

The industry and VFS Global have turned the once costly endeavour of operating consulates and embassies into a money-making opportunity for cash-strapped immigration departments.

“When it comes to outsourcing of visa processing, this is a global phenomenon,” said Federica Infantino, a researcher at the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. “VFS Global is the most important actor in this business. It’s the largest company providing services to governments.”

Administrative tasks, such as filling out paperwork and making sure applicants submit necessary documents, once

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