As we enter 2022, the latest results from the Henley Passport Index show record-breaking levels of travel freedom for top-ranking nations Japan and Singapore, but also the widest recorded global mobility gap since the index’s inception 17 years ago.
Without taking evolving and temporary Covid-related restrictions into account, passport holders of the two Asian nations can now enter 192 destinations around the world visa-free – 166 more than Afghanistan, which sits at the bottom of the index.
This deepening divide in international mobility between wealthier countries and poorer ones was brought into sharp focus late last year with the arrival of the highly infectious Omicron variant, which was met with a raft of punitive restrictions against mainly African nations that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described as akin to “travel apartheid”.
Over the past decade and a half, overall travel freedom levels have expanded significantly.
Data from the Henley Passport Index, which ranks the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa and is based on exclusive and official data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an individual could on average visit 57 countries in 2006 without needing to acquire a visa in advance.
That number has risen to 107, but this overall increase masks a growing disparity between countries in the global north and those in the global south, with nationals from countries such as Sweden and the US able to visit more than 180 destinations visa-free, while passport holders from Angola, Cameroon, and Laos are able to enter only about 50.
Covid-19 exacerbates inequality in global mobility
Germany and South Korea hold joint 2nd spot, with passport holders accessing 190 destinations visa-free, while Finland, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain share 3rd place with 189.
The US and the UK passports have regained some of their previous strength after falling all the way to 8th place in 2020 – the lowest spot held by either country in the index’s 17-year history. Both countries now sit in 6th place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 186.
“Passports and visas are among the most important instruments impacting social inequality globally as they determine opportunities for global mobility. The borders within which we are born and the documents we are entitled to hold are no less arbitrary than our skin color.”
“Wealthier states need to encourage inward migration to redistribute and rebalance human and material resources globally thus improve the size and quality of their workforce.”
Henley Global Mobility Report 2022 Q1 was released with Henley Passport Index rankings.
“Expensive requirements for global travel institutionalize inequality and discrimination.”
“The global COVID-19 pandemic and its related interplay in association with instability and inequality has highlighted and further exacerbated the shocking disparity in international mobility between wealthy developed nations and their poorer counterparts.”
Study reveals determinants of passport power
Research by the global investment migration firm Henley & Partners into the determinants of passport power found wealthier countries’ gains in travel freedom come at the expense of poorer countries which have experienced mounting barriers to entry recently.
Using data from the Henley Passport Index, political scientists Ugur Altundal and Dr. Omer Zarpli compared visa-free scores with World Bank statistics on GDP and fragility, as well as with data collected by the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project at the University of Gothenburg.
While citizens of upper and high income nations have achieved visa-free access to most nations, citizens of lower, middle and low income nations with higher fragility scores have less travel freedom as they are deemed to be high risk in security, asylum and overstay.
While the world’s democracies have higher visa-free scores, both democratic and authoritarian regimes have increased their visa-free scores since 2006 at somewhat similar rates.
“The research clearly shows that people living in poorer nations are experiencing fragility.”
“Places from where escape is often the only option for survival, especially in the presence of active conflict – have the fewest pathways for regular and orderly movement.”
“Geopolitical status is a significant factor influencing the power of the passport as Iranians and Cubans move less freely than Turks despite having similar levels of fragility.”
“The well-documented global democratic decline seems to have had little impact on the ability of newly non-democratic countries’ citizens to move. Democratic and non-democratic countries alike have, on the whole, seen increased access to visa-free travel.”
“While not surprising, the research reinforces the harsh realities of global mobility. If you are fortunate enough to have a passport from a rich and stable country, regardless of form of government you can move relatively easily across international borders.”
“If not, the difficulties of poverty and conflict forcing you to leave home are just the beginning of a tough journey abroad, if you can even leave in the first place.”
Further travel freedom uncertainty predicted for 2022
“The very presence of Omicron points to a major geopolitical failure.”
“Had the US, Britain, and the EU diverted more money and vaccines to southern Africa, the chances of such a robust new strain emerging would have been much lower.”
“Until we share vaccines equitably, new mutations will send us all back to square one.”
Health and vaccination status are influential on mobility as the passport’s visa-free access.
“Nationality and residence status continue to dictate access to nationally approved vaccines while the lack of a globally recognized vaccine passport is restricting mobility.”
“Being a resident in the ‘wrong’ nation might heavily impact access to business, health, and medical services, and make it impossible for some to travel.”
Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety and Security, says much of the progress made over the past two decades to put passengers in control of their journeys through self-service processes has been undone due to pandemic-related restrictions.
“Before traffic ramps up again, we have a window of opportunity to deliver long-term efficiency improvements for passengers, airlines, airports, and governments.”
“73% of passengers can share their biometric data to improve airport processes, and 88% will share immigration information prior to departure for expedited processing.”
Multiple citizenships embraced amidst geopolitical shifts
Against this bleak backdrop, experts commentating in the Henley Global Mobility Report 2022 Q1 observe that there is also cause for some optimism.
As was in 2021, there have been relatively few high-profile visa agreements between countries last year but the rankings have nevertheless seen a few notable upward shifts.
The UAE continues its remarkable upward trajectory on the Henley Passport Index, having recently reinstated in practical terms its landmark US-brokered agreement with Israel, suspended throughout most of the pandemic.
It now sits at 15th place on the ranking, the highest spot yet achieved for the Arab nation throughout the index’s history, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 175.
Ukraine and Georgia have also made significant progress, both having moved up 25 spots in the rankings over the past 10 years, making them the highest climbers in the CIS region.
He notes that the recent amendments to Ukraine’s citizenship laws will facilitate and make it possible for Ukrainians living abroad to hold more than one passport.
This is a further example of how allowing dual citizenship is becoming the norm.
“To make the bill work, Ukrainian lawmakers need to resolve a conundrum of combining national security concerns and the interests of Ukrainian holders of Russian passports, specifically in Donbass and the Crimea, who were forced to take the Russian passports.”
“Its resolution will open pathways for further legislative improvements.”
Prof. Peter J. Spiro, a leading expert on dual citizenship who holds the Charles Weiner Chair in international law at Temple University in the US, says that there is a wider global move to embrace multiple citizenships even as the pandemic has curtailed movement.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, states locked down their borders but almost all of them continued to allow entry by citizens and in many cases permanent residents as well.”
“So, dual citizenship now has value even to those holding premium passports. It’s emerged as a kind of insurance that has value regardless of one’s primary nationality.”
“In the pandemic context, it also acted as a health insurance. The more citizenships one holds, the more diversified one’s insurance will be.”
Domicile diversification mitigates risk in Covid era
As in past years, countries that offer residence and citizenship by investment programs continue to perform strongly on the Henley Passport Index, with Dominica’s recent visa waiver agreement with China seen by experts as a prime example of that success.
The chaos of the pandemic has emphasized the appeal of investment migration programs for the states that are able to offer them, as well as for international investors.
Dr. Juerg Steffen, CEO of Henley & Partners says the benefits of a domicile choice are evident.
“Many investment migration programs are currently including the option of investing in real estate in return for residence or citizenship in some countries.”
“Investors acquire a sizeable asset with the potential to increase in value and the ability to live in a new country and move freely can be extremely valuable in times of turbulence.”
“Countries with established programs have benefited from the alternative revenue stream.”
“Clearly, governments that have adjusted their policies in order to allow foreign investors to settle with ease will win the competitive race for both revenue and talent in 2022.”