Moving into the third quarter of 2019, Japan and Singapore hold onto top spot on the Henley Passport Index, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 189. This latest ranking of passport power and global mobility – which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – marks the culmination of an 18-month long winning streak, after they unseated Germany from its long-held 1st position at the beginning of 2018.
Falling from the top spot it shared last quarter, South Korea now sits in 2nd place along with Finland and Germany, accessing 187 destinations without a prior visa. Finland’s ascent 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 50 countries, notably excluding the UK or the US. With a 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 ranking in 2014.
Denmark, Italy, and Luxembourg share 3rd place, while France, Spain, and Sweden sit in joint 4th place. In significant shifts elsewhere, the United Arab Emirates has entered the top 20 for the first time in the index’s 14-year history, more than doubling its number of visa-free destinations over the past five years. Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the global mobility spectrum, with access to just 25 destinations worldwide.
Brexit, the EU, and the Link between Visa-Openness and Progressive Reform
Throughout most of the index’s history, the UK has held one of the top five places in the ranking. However, with its exit from the EU now imminent, 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 Ugur Altundal and Omer Zarpli, of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh respectively, have found a link between visa-openness and progressive reform. They say “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 they 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.
Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners and the creator of the passport index concept, says: “This latest research appears to confirm something that many of us already knew intuitively: that increased visa-openness benefits the entire global community, and not just the strongest countries.”
Countries with citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programs continue to perform strongly on the index, and demonstrate a similar connection between passport power and economic and social progress. Malta now sits in 7th place with a score of 182, just one spot behind the UK and the US. Cyprus retains its 16th place, with a score of 172, while the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda is now in 29th place, rising 11 places over the past decade.