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 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.
In the latest rankings, India improves its passport power, climbing seven places to rank in 83rd place compared to last year’s 90th position. It now has visa-free access to 60 destinations worldwide, with Oman and Armenia being the latest destination Indian passport holders can now visit without obtaining a visa compared to just 58 visa-free access destinations in Q4 2021.
This deepening divide in international mobility between wealthier countries and poorer ones was bought into sharp focus late last year by the raft of punitive Omicron-related restrictions against mainly African nations that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described as akin to “travel apartheid”. This, even though overall travel freedom levels have expanded significantly over the past two decades. According to historical data from the Henley Passport Index, which ranks all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa and is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an individual could, on average, visit 57 countries in 2006 visa-free. Today, 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 can only enter about 50.
Covid-19 exacerbates inequality in global mobility
Germany and South Korea hold onto joint 2nd spot on the latest ranking, with passport holders able to access 190 destinations visa-free, while Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, and Spain share 3rd place, with a score of 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.
Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, says opening up migration channels is essential for post-pandemic recovery. “Passports and visas are among the most important instruments impacting on social inequality worldwide as they determine opportunities for global mobility. The borders within which we happen to be born, and the documents we are entitled to hold, are no less arbitrary than our skin color. Wealthier states need to encourage positive inward migration to help redistribute and rebalance human and material resources worldwide.”
Commenting in the Henley Global Mobility Report 2022 Q1, which was released today along with the latest Henley Passport Index ranking, Prof. Mehari Taddele Maru from the Migration Policy Centre points out that “the expensive requirements associated with international travel institutionalize inequality and discrimination. Covid-19 and its interplay with instability and inequality has highlighted and exacerbated the shocking disparity in international mobility between wealthy developed nations and their poorer counterparts.”
Further uncertainty predicted for 2022
Remarking in the report on the pandemic’s effect on wider geopolitical trends in migration and mobility, Misha Glenny, award-winning journalist and associate professor at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, says “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 the distribution of vaccines more equitably, new mutations will have the ability to send us all back to square one.”
Dr. Andreas Brauchlin, an internationally renowned cardiology and internal medicine specialist and member of the SIP Medical Family Office Advisory Board in Switzerland, agrees, stating in the report that “an individual’s health and vaccination status are as influential on mobility as their passport’s visa-free access. Being a resident in the ‘wrong’ nation can heavily impact on your access to business, health, and medical services, and make it impossible for some to travel.”