As citizens of the United States find themselves excluded from most global travel, and European countries continue to increase the counties which need visas to visit, the Asian countries of Japan, Singapore and South Korea now have the most powerful passports.
As coronavirus-related travel restrictions begin to lift, the latest research from the Henley Passport Index, based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), shows that the pandemic has completely upended the seemingly unshakeable global mobility hierarchy that has dominated the last few decades, with more change still to come.
At the beginning of the year, for instance, the US passport was ranked in 6th position on the Henley Passport Index — the original ranking of all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa — and Americans could travel hassle-free to 185 destinations around the world. Since then, that number has dropped dramatically by over 100, with US passport holders currently able to access fewer than 75 destinations, with the most popular tourist and business centers notably excluded. As criticism of the country’s pandemic response continues to mount, and with the US presidential election just weeks away, the precipitous decline of US passport power and American travel freedom is seen as a clear indication of its altered status in the eyes of the international community.
Other significant changes in the once-solid global mobility hierarchy paint an equally vivid picture of the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, the Singapore passport was ranked 2nd globally, with passport holders able to access an unprecedented 190 destinations globally. However, under the current travel restrictions, Singaporeans can travel to fewer than 80 destinations around the world. Brazilian passport holders were able to access 170 destinations, but currently approximately only 70 are accessible. The decline in mobility and passport power for countries such as Indiaand Russia have been less dramatic, but nevertheless indicative of an overall shift. Russian citizens had access to 119 destinations prior to the Covid-19 outbreak but can currently travel to fewer than 50. At the beginning of the year, Indian passport holders could travel to 61 destinations without a visa, but due to virus-related restrictions they currently have access to fewer than 30.
Without taking the various pandemic-related travel bans and restrictions into account, Japan continues to hold the number one spot on the Henley Passport Index, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 191. Singapore remains in 2ndplace, with a score of 190, while Germany and South Korea are tied 3rd, each with a score of 189. EU member states continue to perform best overall, with countries from the bloc taking up most of the spots in the index’s top 10.
Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners and inventor of the passport index concept, says travel freedom is something citizens of wealthy democratic countries such the UK, the US, and Western European nations have taken for granted for decades. “The pandemic has abruptly changed this, and there’s been a shift away from travel freedom being regarded as the prerogative of nationals with once-powerful passports, towards a realization that it is now a necessary luxury for those wishing to access first-class education, business opportunities, and quality healthcare for themselves and their families.”
Dr. Parag Khanna, founder of FutureMap, says that increasingly restrictive migration policies have also encouraged many people to seek out a Plan B. “Even prior to the pandemic, Brexit had pushed British professionals to seek German, French, Spanish, and other EU nationalities based on lineage, or to pursue residency leading to citizenship in countries such as Portugal. Americans have availed themselves of similar options in countries ranging from Canada to Malta. Recent estimates suggest that interest in investment migration programs has jumped five-fold from 2019 through mid-2020.”
Dr. Juerg Steffen, CEO of Henley & Partners, says there is no question that the volatility of 2020 has boosted the appeal. “We’ve seen unprecedented interest from citizens of developed economies, particularly Americans with a startling 238% increase in enquiries from between January and October compared to the same period in 2019. Alternative residence or citizenship is increasingly seen as an indispensable asset and a vital hedge against ongoing volatility.”