Faster, better and friendlier visa service
MURMANSK: Elena Goncharuk is servicing one of the 13 counters at Norway’s new visa center in Murmansk where customers are guaranteed to have their paperwork done in less than 15 minutes.
Forget about freezing outdoor queues and short opening hours. A new era starts on Friday when the door opens to the smiling staff ready to serve the fast growing number of Murmansk citizens traveling abroad.
The large, brand new visa center on Zelenaya street is operated by VFS Global, the world’s largest private company handling paperwork for the applicants on behalf of foreign diplomatic missions. In addition to the 13 counters ready to serve people wanting to go to Norway, four other desks are dedicated to applicants to Sweden, Switzerland, the Check Republic and Spain. VFS Global also operates a Finnish visa center at another location downtown Murmansk.
“From entering the door, customers will have their applications delivered within 15 minutes to one of our friendly employees,” says Srinarayan Sankaran, head of VFS Global in Russia and CIS. His deputy, Arvind Yadav, says to BarentsObserver that a customer who for one or another reason is dissatisfied with the service is most welcomed to complain. “I will then personally call them and ask what we can do better.”
Head of the visa section at Norway’s Consulate General in Murmansk, Marit Egholm Jacobsen has been looking forward to the opening of the center. “From now, everyone can come with their applications when it is suitable for them. The doors are open from 9 am to 5 pm, five days a week. A person can just drop by during a lunch-break and deliver the papers or pick up their visa,” she says.
The center has a photo kiosk where applicants can make their passport picture. Also, a call-center and a web-portal are ready to provide customers with information about processing time or other questions applicants might have.
Last year, the Consulate General of Norway in Murmansk issued a record high of 23,300 Schengen visas. The number of border-crossings between Russia’s Kola Peninsula and Norway made a record high of 252,000 in 2012, doubling over the last three years.
Some 70 percent of all visas issued by Norway in Murmansk last year are valid for multiple-entry. First time applicants get a one-year visa, followed by three years and finally five years.
Also Sweden issues a growing number of multiple entry visas. Present at the solemn opening event at the visa center Wednesday evening was Sebastian Szymanski, head of visa department at Sweden’s Consulate General in St. Petersburg.
“As long as we can see that an applicant has a Schengen-history including several entries to Sweden, multiple valid visas for longer period can be issued,” says Sebastian Szymanski to BarentsObserver.
Arvind Yadav with VFS Global says that even more Schengen countries could be represented at the new visa center in Murmansk.
“More and more Russians, including here in Murmansk, are going on vacations to countries in the Mediterranean. We are ready to represent them as well,” he says.