I recently heard comments on visa outsourcing by Schengen countries, which show that it is still a source of misunderstanding after more than 8 years of implementation by most if not all Schengen Member States.
Visa outsourcing does not consist in giving to a private company a decision-making authority for issuing visa, as I sometimes hear. The competence to issue or to refuse a visa remains with the official services, which usually delegate this power to the Consuls. The external service providers have no power and have no influence whatsoever on the consular decision.
The role of the external service providers thus is limited to a list of tasks, qualified as accessories. The extent of these tasks depends on the terms of the contracts passed with the Governments, which must comply with Annex X of the Visa Code.
Visa outsourcing was first introduced in the European legislation by regulation (EC) n° 390/2009 amending the Common Consular Instructions on visas which entered into force in May 2009. It was then integrated into the Visa Code (Regulation 810/2009 of 13 July 2009).
It was the result of a hard fought compromise between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Schengen Member States.
Visa outsourcing started in India when diplomatic and consular missions became aware of the difficulties to handle an increasing number of visa applicants for tourism in their countries. It is in these circumstances that VFS was created. Outsourcing has considerably developed since: almost all Schengen Member States now resort to outsourcing, as many other non-Schengen countries: the United Kingdom, which was a pioneer, Ireland, the United States, Canada, India, Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc.
Like many other countries, Schengen Member States are facing a global increase of visa applications, in particular in emerging countries, which require additional resources.
In addition, biometrics makes the personal appearance of applicants compulsory, whereas before the introduction of fingerprinting, it was the travel agencies that served as intermediaries. Additional counters must be opened, staffed and equipped for biometric data collection. Besides, compulsory personal appearance generated a high demand for local services, close to where applicants reside.
Finally, Consulates are more and more exposed to security threats. More applicants entering the Consular premises would increase risks.
These constraints generate new costs: for more staff, for larger premises, for refurbishment, for security. Yet, many Governments face at the same time increasing budgetary constraints.
So, Consulates are squeezed between increasing needs and shrinking resources.
Outsourcing provides the solution for Governments as it transfers the cost of labour intensive repetitive tasks not interfering with the decision process to external service providers. At the same time, it improves the conditions of visa submission by applicants, as they are received in appropriate premises adequately staffed.