The latest research from the Henley Passport Index released on October 13th shows that the pandemic has completely upended the seemingly unshakeable hierarchy of global mobility that has dominated the last few decades. It confirms another study that we reported last month with The Passport Index ranking: everything changed with the Covid-19 crisis and the recent drop of global mobility is affecting all countries. For example, at the beginning of 2020, the Singapore passport was giving access to 190 destinations globally, while now 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. Similarly, at the start of the year, 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. The Henley Passport Index writes:
"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."
The UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) published earlier this month data showing that a total of 219 countries, territories or areas have issued 96,549 travel restrictions indicating an increase of 4 cent over the previous week. There has also been an increase of 10 per cent in other restrictions such as new documents needed for travel and an increase of 8 per cent in medical requirements. Some countries (such as Australia for example) have closed their borders to most international travellers; you can only enter if you are granted an exemption by the border authorities. The IOM wrote also that a total of 176 countries, territories or areas have issued 777 exceptions enabling mobility despite blanket travel restrictions.
This quarterly analysis is part of the Henley & Partners' annual report which ranks passports based on the number of countries a holder can go to without a visa, or can easily obtain a visa on arrival. The Henley Passport Index is based on data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and supplemented by in-house research. The index, which has got 15 years of historical data (it was launched in 2006), includes 199 passports and 227 travel destinations including micro-states and territories. It is meant to give an insight of the changes in term of global passport power, looking at which passports have gained in strength and which have fallen behind. The allocate the value 1 to each passport for each destination if no passport is required or if passport holders can obtain a visa on arrival, and the value 0 otherwise.
Before the pandemic and the travel restrictions, both Japan and Singapore had the world's most powerful passports, allowing visa-free or visa-on-arrival travel to 189 places out of 199 countries. Germany and South Korea were tied in second place and most of the EU countries were sharing rank 3 and 4 (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). The UK was only sixth, the same place as the US, and both countries at the lowest position they ever held since 2010! The pair was top of the list in 2014.
Henley & Partners writes:
"Unsurprisingly, those countries whose coronavirus responses have been criticized for being inadequate have taken the greatest knock when it comes to the travel freedom of their citizens. Brazilian passport holders were able to access 170 destinations without acquiring a visa in advance in January. Currently, approximately only 70 destinations are accessible. The decline in mobility and passport power for countries such as India and 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."
Contrary to The Passport Index study, the Henley Passport Index does not update its ranking board with the latest travel ban or restrictions, but publishes a global analysis. And they warn that although the Covid-19 has drawn all attention, issues such as Brexit and the US' controversial migration policies are likely to have impact future of global mobility. The report quotes Robert McNeil, Deputy Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, who says:
"Whatever the final form of the UK's departure from the EU, it is likely to affect migration. After the 2016 referendum, the depreciation of the pound reduced the UK's attractiveness to EU workers — something that may recur if Brexit rattles financial markets further. Meanwhile, increased restrictions on EU migrants' access to the UK labour market are set to be implemented as new rules under the 2020 immigration bill. It seems inevitable these will lead to a fall in EU migration to the UK."
Brexit has pushed a lot of British citizens to seek other EU passports based on lineage, or to take advantage of their residency in EU countries such as Portugal or France to request citizenship.
In addition, countries seeing a sure of unemployment are put under pressure to reduce the number of work visas. The US, for example, have imposed bans or severe restrictions on certain types of work visas and Singapore gives incentives for businesses to hire locals over expatriates.
Citizenship-by-investment programmes (where you can get citizenship after investing a large sum of money in the country), offered by an increasing number of countries such as Malta, is proven attractive for wealthy citizens of developed economies, particularly the US, who want to secure a second passport.
Whatever happens, travel freedom which was something that has been taken for granted for decades, might become a luxury in the future.
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