Singapore holds on to its top spot with Japan on the Henley Passport Index with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 189. This latest ranking of passport power and global mobility based on data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) marks an 18-month long winning streak for Japan. Singapore, on the other hand, has held either first or second position since January 2018.
The Henley Passport index is an annual ranking of the most powerful passport in the world which is officially released in real-time each quarter.
This quarter, South Korea dropped to second position with Finland and Germany. Citizens of all three countries are able to access 187 destinations around the world without a prior visa. Finland’s ascent from 3rd to 2nd place is due to recent changes to Pakistan’s formerly highly restrictive visa policy. In the hope of attracting tourists and boosting its struggling economy, Pakistan now offers an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) to citizens of 50 countries, including Finland, Japan, Malta, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates. This concession, strikingly, does not extend to either the UK or the US. With a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 183, the UK and the US now share 6th place – the lowest position either country has held since 2010, and a significant drop from their 1st place spot in 2014.
In joint third is Denmark, Italy, and Luxembourg, each with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 186, while France, Spain, and Sweden are in joint 4th place, each with a score of 185. In significant shifts elsewhere in the rankings, the United Arab Emirates has entered the index’s top 20 for the first time in the index’s 14-year history, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 165.
On the other hand, Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the global mobility spectrum, with its citizens able to access only 25 destinations worldwide without a prior visa.
Brexit, the EU, and the link between visa-openness and progressive reform
Throughout most of the index’s long history, the UK has held one of the top five places in the ranking. However, with its exit from the EU now imminent, and coupled with ongoing confusion about the terms of its departure, the UK’s once-strong position looks increasingly uncertain. The Brexit process has not yet had a direct impact on the UK’s ranking, but new research using exclusive historical data from the Henley Passport Index indicates that this could change, with consequences that extend beyond a decline in passport power.
Political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli, of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh respectively, have found that that there is a link between visa-openness and progressive reform, and that a county’s ranking on the index reveals far more than simply the number of destinations its holders are able to access. Altundal and Zarpli’s unique research shows that even short-term travel mobility, which represents 85% of all cross-border movements, can positively influence political liberalization and democratization.
Conversely, countries moving towards nationalist isolationism and away from policies that encourage visa-openness are likely to drop in the Henley Passport Index rankings and incur geopolitical consequences for themselves and their neighbours.
Altundal and Zarpli observe that “the prospect of visa-waiver agreements with the EU has encouraged neighboring countries to adopt important reforms in areas such as civil and political rights, rule of law, and security,” and note that freedom of movement appears to be a vital pre-condition not only for economic growth, but also for social integration and progressive political change.
With nationalism on the rise, and global powerhouses like the UK and the US embracing policies that limit freedom of movement, this new research indicates that associated impacts on political rights, rule of law, security and democracy could be profound.
Integration and economic progress
The connection between visa-openness, economic control, and social progress is exemplified by a country’s changing attitude regarding strengthened diplomatic relationships.
Commenting on Brazil’s visa policy – the country has implemented a visa waiver for citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, and the US – Dr. Parag Khanna, Founder and Managing Partner of FutureMap and author of The Future Is Asian: Global Order in the Twenty-first Century, says: “Brazil’s new government has come in at a time of economic crisis and seeks to accelerate an economic rebound. It needs to send a signal that it is open for business and cleaning up. Despite years of opposition to visa waivers for countries such as the US on a non-reciprocal basis, it seems Brazil has now caved in. To attract the capital and investor interest the country needs as part of its turnaround, it has taken this step to open up to important capital exporters such as Canada, Japan, and the US.”
Investment migration countries secure strong positions
Countries with citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programs continue to perform strongly on the Henley Passport Index, and demonstrate a similar connection between passport power and economic and social progress. Moving up from the 8th-place spot it held last quarter, Malta now sits alone in 7th place with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 182, just one spot behind the UK and the US. Cyprus retains its 16th place on the index, with a score of 172, while the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda is now in 29th place, with a score of 147, rising 11 places over the past decade.
Dominic Volek, Managing Partner of Henley & Partners Singapore and Head of Southeast Asia, says: “Increasingly, we are seeing globally-mobile entrepreneurs and investors across Asia considering an alternative residence or citizenship, with such programs becoming more sought after. For someone with a weak passport, the acquisition of a passport from a country like Malta for example, gives its holders visa-free access to 182 destinations around the world and can be genuinely life-changing. And the benefits of this are not one-sided. Since the introduction of its citizenship-by-investment program, Malta has attracted significant foreign direct investment, while dramatically reducing its overall debt levels. It is now one of the most financially-dynamic countries in the EU, with the lives of all its citizens greatly improved.”