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Chaos and Criticism Erupt as “Bright Daylight Robbery” Hits Sri Lankan On-Arrival Visa Processing

Under the government's projection of 2.3 million foreign visitors entering Sri Lanka this year, VFS Global stands to gain a staggering $42.5 million annually, in addition to $17.25 million from "convenience fees." This places VFS Global as a major beneficiary of Sri Lanka's tourism industry.

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The Bandaranaike International Airport witnessed scenes of chaos and frustration on May Day as a controversial new visa processing system introduced by VFS Global left travellers stranded in long queues for hours. The debacle has ignited widespread criticism of what has been dubbed the “Bright Daylight Robbery” – a scheme that stands to benefit a foreign company at the expense of both travellers and the Sri Lankan government.

VFS Global, a company granted exclusive rights to process Sri Lankan visas, found itself overwhelmed as it set up operations at the airport’s arrival terminal. The resulting hours-long queues prompted outrage among both locals and visitors alike.

A video of a Sri Lankan national openly criticizing VFS Global’s expensive and incompetent operation quickly went viral on social media, drawing attention to the issue and amplifying public discontent.

Amid escalating tensions, the Immigration Department was forced to intervene and take over the operation with police assistance to prevent any violent outbursts from the frustrated crowds.

The controversy stems from a decision by the cabinet of ministers to approve an unsolicited offer from VFS Global, a move initiated by Public Security Minister Tiran Alles. Originally proposed by GBS Technology Services and IVS Global – FZCO, the deal was later expanded to include VFS VF Worldwide Holdings Ltd.

Under the government’s projection of 2.3 million foreign visitors entering Sri Lanka this year, VFS Global stands to gain a staggering $42.5 million annually, in addition to $17.25 million from “convenience fees.” This places VFS Global as a major beneficiary of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry.

Critics have pointed out the lack of transparency in the procurement process, noting that the government bypassed a previous decision to grant authority to Mobitel for upgrading the visa processing system. Mobitel’s proposed technical fee of just one dollar per application contrasts sharply with the $18.5 charged by VFS Global.

Furthermore, the new system imposes additional fees on travellers, including a $7.5 “convenience fee” for credit or debit card payments, on top of increased visa charges. Even nationals of countries granted visa fee waivers by Sri Lanka will still be required to pay $25 each for VFS processing fees.

Tourism Minister Harin Fernando, while expressing his opposition to the new system, cited collective cabinet responsibility as his reason for defending the government’s decision. However, he pledged to campaign for change, recognizing the detrimental impact on both tourists and the country’s tourism industry.

Despite mounting criticism and calls for reform, VFS Global has remained silent on the issue, leaving travellers and officials alike grappling with the repercussions of what many perceive as a misguided and exploitative arrangement.

Sri Lanka Guardian

The Sri Lanka Guardian is an online web portal founded in August 2007 by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. We are independent and non-profit. Email: editor@slguardian.org

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