Passport power and the North-South divide

SINGAPORE, 7 October 2021: Japan and Singapore remain the top passports giving citizens visa-free travel to 166 destinations, according to the latest results and research from the Henley Passport Index.

In contrast, Afghan nationals, who sit at the bottom of the index with access to just 26 countries without having to apply for a visa in advance.

The latest results and research from the Henley Passport Index show how proliferating barriers to entry over the past 18 months of the pandemic have resulted in the widest global mobility gap in its 16-year history.

Based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the index, which ranks all of the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa, shows that countries in the global north with high-ranking passports have enforced some of the most stringent inbound Covid-19-related travel restrictions.

Also, many countries with lower-ranking passports in the global south have relaxed their borders without seeing this openness reciprocated.

This has created an ever-widening gap in travel freedom even for fully vaccinated travellers from countries at the lower end of the passport power ranking who remain locked out of most of the world.

Research and expert analysis by investment advisory firm Henley & Partners indicates that this gap is likely to increase as pandemic-related restrictions become entrenched and amplify the already significant global mobility divide between advanced and developing economies.

Japan, which shares the top spot on the index with Singapore due to its visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 192, currently bars almost all foreign nationals from entry.

Germany, which sits alongside South Korea in joint-second place with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 190, currently restricts nearly 100 countries from entry.

At the lower end of the index, Egypt ranked 97th, currently has no travel restrictions in place, yet its citizens can access just 51 destinations around the world without acquiring a visa in advance. Similarly, Kenya, which ranks 77th, has no travel bans in place, yet its passport holders can access just 72 destinations visa-free.

Covid an excuse for curbing visitors from the global south?

Commenting in Henley & Partners’ Global Mobility Report 2021 Q4, Professor Mehari Taddele Maru from the United Nations University Institute says: “The global north has been enforcing aggressive migration containment strategies for some time now through the rigid application of border controls, undermining the movement of persons in various ways. Covid-19-associated travel restrictions are new additions to the toolbox of migration containment instruments employed by the global north to curb mobility from the global south.”

Recent adjustments to the Covid-ban policies of the UK and the US, which share 7th place on the index with a visa-free score of 185, have done little to alter what experts perceive to be growing inequalities when it comes to travel freedom and access.

Nor has their refusal to recognize vaccines administered across Africa, South America, and South Asia. Although the US has now opened its borders to all fully vaccinated travellers, the UK’s recent revision of its ‘red list’ still excludes fully vaccinated travellers from countries such as Argentina, Brazil, India, and South Africa.

Commenting on these latest developments, Dr Christian Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, insists that “if want to restart the global economy, it is critical that developed nations encourage inward migration flows, as opposed to persisting with their outmoded restrictions and exclusive approach to the rest of the world.”

(Source: Henley & Partners)