The dawn of online consular services: the FDFA opens its virtual consulate

By 2020, half of the people on our planet will be connected to the Internet and almost 90 % of data traffic will flow through mobile devices. Service providers would do well to bear these figures in mind when thoughts about quality, efficiency and customer satisfaction dictate their decision-making in developing tools for work and modern communication.

e-government

In 2007, the Swiss Federal Council adopted an e-government strategy intended in particular to modernise the procedures of Switzerland’s authorities, especially by ensuring communication is possible through electronic channels. It also put in place measures to enable citizens to file all their important paperwork with the authorities electronically.

By expanding the law to include the Swiss Abroad, parliament has clearly established the framework for providing consular services via a single point of contact. For its part, the Federal Council added that these services could be offered and obtained either electronically or virtually and that they should cover in particular areas such as consular services, the mailing of publications, the generation of statistics and the setting up of information channels.

Conscious of the importance of IT in contemporary society, the Swiss Abroad themselves made it the central theme of their 92nd congress in August 2014. Speaking at the event, the then OSA President Jacques-Simon Eggly said that, to improve relations with their fellow citizens, “the authorities should take advantage of new information technology to inform, contact and maintain close ties with the Swiss diaspora.”

A single virtual point of contact

To meet these different mandates and expectations, the FDFA has developed a modern IT-based management system for the Swiss Abroad.

Aside from a more up-to-date IT architecture, this new system primarily offers the Swiss Abroad online services based on four principles: interactivity between users and the authorities, mobile access to information, online payment and interconnection with parallel systems (social insurance, local authorities, etc.).

Thus, from early October 2016 onwards, a new internet portal will enable all the Swiss Abroad to benefit from a range of online services: notification of arrival or departure abroad, the initiation of administrative procedures, direct contact with consulates, changes of address, etc.

This portal will be easily accessible via the FDFA’s main site (www.dfae.admin.ch, “Online counter”) as well as those of the relevant Swiss representations. The main challenge for access to the online counter will be in identifying users. Because it is dealing with personal information that must be reliable at all times, two procedures have been laid down: direct access for SuisseID cardholders and access via two-stage identification (name and personal password + a code received by SMS). Detailed information can be found on the online counter page.

Like all the other FDFA websites, the online counter will be accessible via all devices (PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones) thanks to the integration of responsive design.

Dynamic approach

In order to encourage users to make use of an online service, they need to be able to use it regularly and thus become acquainted with the system. Such regular use requires the range of services offered by the online counter eVERA to be attractive. It will therefore be expanded further in the future. New features are already planned, including notifying changes of address, online payment for issued certificates, registry office announcements and crisis management.

The FDFA is thus pleased to be able to extend its services to the Swiss Abroad in a way that is effective and environmentally friendly by limiting the use of paper, all thanks to moving to virtual transactions.

Laurent Perriard, Deputy Director Consular Affairs, FDFA

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