OUTSOURCED VISA-PROCESSING SERVICES: You can't trust third parties
DIPLOMATIC and government outsourcing is nothing new. One area of outsourcing involves visa application services or the processing of visa applications before they are sent to an embassy for approval and issuance of travel documents.
Generally, applicants no longer need to apply for visas in embassies but in application centres, which are run by third-party operators.
This business has thrived in the last decade.
From a business perspective, this is one of the most efficient ways to mitigate internal risks or problems such as staffing and liability, including internal security issues.
Visa outsourcing is touted as speeding up visa applications and yielding efficiency.
However, the downside is applicants have no choice but to deal with consulates and missions by proxy via the agents.
This has resulted in problems taking a long time to be resolved.
Many applicants, who wait for hours, complain about the poor service, such as delays and ignorance of the staff, of whom many have little or no knowledge of government procedures and the documentation process.
Worse, contract staff are hired to cope with overcrowding at peak seasons, especially July to September.
Poor service is debatable but the major concern here is on the security risks because of foreign entities running the visa application business.
Most applicants have faith that their documents are handled properly by these preferred outsourcing partners because of their track record in handling multiple missions around the world.
There is also a belief that these visa application centres employ high security in line with the compliance requirements of the embassies.
The operators may point out that basic criminal checks have been conducted and staff have signed privacy agreements, but this is almost ineffectual in thwarting information theft and collaboration between staff and syndicates involved in human trafficking, document forgery and drug smuggling.
Checking someone's criminal history background does not always reveal potential perpetrators or insiders.
Almost all fraud and document thefts are committed by insiders without criminal records.
Fraud is an inevitable aspect when a vital stage of border security has been handed over to foreign companies. Personal information can be subjected to abuse or mined for criminal use and activity.
Take the recent scandal in China, where corrupt officials relaxed the rules at New Zealand's Beijing Immigration office, leading to hundreds of fraudulent student visas being issued, which relied on false bank statements and qualifications since July.
In 2009, a member of a firm issuing visas to the United Kingdom in Pakistan was arrested for allegedly accepting STG22,000 to obtain visas for eight people. He absconded before he could be sentenced.
In 2007, the same company faced a probe into an alleged breach of security in its online application facility.
Few witnesses have come forward, for obvious reasons, when organised crime is involved. Because of this, fraudulent activities have become widespread in many countries.
These visa application centres are managed by third-party contractors.
Embassies have delegated most of the liability to contractors and subcontractors, whom embassies have little control over.
We have also heard of cases where entire files of original documents, certificates and passports went missing in transit or in full custody of these contractors.
They then inform you they are not liable for such incidents.
So, should we trust outsourced visa processing services?
Unless there is a control mechanism by local enforcement agencies, particularly in enforcing the law on data protection, and assurance from embassies that the contractors are competent enough to comply with the highest standards, visa applications should remain in the direct control and responsibility of embassies and missions, not contracted parties.
Visa application centres collecting, storing and processing confidential and private information should also be outsourced to local companies, rather than international firms, as this could lead
to syndicated efforts by agents in manipulating information, leading to national and cross-border crimes.
Khen Han Ming, Shah Alam, Selangor