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IFS : Indian Foreign Service

by priyanka singh

IFS is the Indian Foreign Service, which recruits public service officers for overseas postings. IFS is an exclusive cadre and finds limited openings in each year. But also includes a regular intake of many people from diverse disciplines across the country. In most countries, there is only one Foreign Service institution – the US State Department or its equivalent. While India has three institutions: Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Civil Services (CS) and Defence Services (DS). 

The job profile of IFS staff varies greatly in terms of duties performed on foreign postings. Depending on location and requirement some may perform research work. While others may be involve in humanitarian assistance programmes or trade promotion activities.

Why join IFS?

IAS officers are recruite into IFS on a highly competitive basis. With around 100 candidates competing for just about 30 vacancies every year. The process is guide by a clear set of criteria like academic qualifications. Academic performance as assessed by the Interview Board. Those not fulfilling the requirements are left out. 

Why this job?

India is a meritocracy where you select your own boss and then do the job. It is a unique blend of modernity and tradition. That blends in seamlessly and makes us different from all other nations. 

How to join this job?

The process for joining IFS is quite demanding. There are stringent criteria that have to be fulfilled by prospective candidates. Which includes qualifying for a minimum of 35 CGPA (3.5 on 10 point scale) from universities or institutes recognized by the University Grants Commission. All the public universities and all medical institutions of repute are recognize. Additionally, candidates must possess at least 50% marks in the qualifying examination for direct entry into IFS. 

Recently IFS has decided to introduce a new category of candidates – International Management Graduates (IMGs). These candidates fulfil special criteria and have to clear a rigorous selection process before joining the service. They are stream-lined directly into leadership positions in international organizations. Currently, due to the limited number of IMG posts, they have no choice but to join IAS-CS/DS as Assistant Secretaries. Instead of starting as Assistant Foreign Service (AFS) officers like other Indian Foreign Service Officers (IFSOs) who have always been part of IFS.


Minimum education required

Candidates having a graduate degree in any discipline with at least 50% marks in their qualifying examinations (45% for candidates belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes) are eligible to apply. Candidates shall be born on or after October 1, 1986.

The entire selection process takes around two years. Involving two separate selections: one conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). Which conducts and sets the exam. The other by Foreign Service of India (FSI) which conducts interviews at different stages. No job is give on the basis of a merit list, according to which everyone gets the same rank. The best candidates are offer postings while those who do not make it to the top cut are rejected and do not even apply for posts in IFS.

Differences between IAS-CS, IAS-DS, IFS:

IAS – Inter Services Selection Board (ISB) has three posting categories – Limited Service (LS), Senior Service (SS) and Upper Level Service (US). Candidates are eligible for any branch from amongst all branches of Indian Defence Services as well as other branches like Ministry of Shipping, Ministry of Railways etc. or their equivalent in State Governments. This means that there are four different postings opportunities at entry level: Limited Service, Upper Level Service, Senior Service and Deputy Secretary (Junior Division) with varied responsibilities. IFS officers on the other hand have no such opportunity at the entry level and are post directly as Assistant Secretaries overseas without any prior experience in India.

CS – Civil Services has a more hierarchical cadre structure, starting with the AS(General), followed by the (junior) AS(B), Assistant Secretary/Secretary and Sub Secretary. The higher ranks of Assistant Secretaries also have separate cadres for them. In CS, all posts are open to all who meet minimum qualification criteria without exception. There is one common pay scale and merit is not the basis for recruitment.

Their payscale

IFS Officers work under the Central Staffing Scheme (CSS) which determines pay-scales and grades. AFS officers are paid salaries in accordance with their CCS (Revised Pay) rules 2015. Their grade pay is less than IAS-CS officers, which is understandable as they don’t have senior cadres or grade pay.

Special allowances for officers

IFS Officers receive very few allowance that are allowed under CSS scheme, including House Rent Allowance (HRA), Dearness Allowance (DA), as well as Additional Deputation Pay and Special Compensatory Allowance (SCA). All such allowances are comparatively less than what IAS officers get.

Benefits of this job

  1. Priority for posting to an overseas posting – IFS officers are always give preference for posting overseas, irrespective of the service’s posting policies. 
  2. Longer service period – IFS officers have a very long service tenure. They are posted on foreign postings between three and six years on fixed-term basis as per the FS calendar of postings which is applicable in India. 
  3. Preferred pay scale – CSS pay-scales are generally higher at entry level than that of IAS-CS or DS positions, providing better compensation and allowances to those who choose to join India Foreign Service. 
  4. Better career progression – The career progression for IAS Officers and IFS Officers is not the same due to different modes of recruitment (selection process, rules, laws and regulations). As the number of vacancies in FCI are quite low, the competition is tougher for senior positions. However, entry-level candidates, who join as Deputy Secretary or Assistant Secretary first in all services may have an easier ride in their career progression.


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