Japan has consolidated its position at the top of the Henley Passport Index, allowing its citizens visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to a record total of 189 destinations.
Following closely behind Japan are Singapore and Germany in joint 2nd place, with 188 destinations accessible without a prior visa. 3rd place is shared by six countries: one Asian (South Korea) and the rest European (Finland, France, Italy, Spain, and Sweden).
While Schengen area countries have traditionally topped the index as a result of their open access to Europe, developed Asian nations have been able to secure equally high scores in recent years thanks to their strong international trade and diplomatic relations. With close to 40 visa-waiver agreements signed by governments since the start of the year, passport-holders around the world go into the summer season with greater collective access than ever before.
The UAE, in 23rd place, remains the fastest overall climber on the index, ascending 38 places since 2008. The country has secured more new visa-waivers for its citizens in 2018 than any other jurisdiction in the world and is quickly closing in on the lead that Israel, in 19th place, has historically held within the Middle East region. The US and the UK are tied in 4th place, along with Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Portugal; the US has climbed one place compared to 1Q2018 while the UK has remained stable.
Having gained access to the UAE, Oman, and Bosnia and Herzegovina this year, China has significantly strengthened its position on the ranking, climbing from 74th to 68th position since 1Q2018 — although the country’s relatively low score of 70 visa-free or visa-on-arrival destinations means that it still cannot compete with North Asian high-performers Japan and South Korea.
Henley Passport Index, which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has recently been updated through extensive research to include eight new travel destinations. According to Dr. Christian H. Kälin, Group Chairman of Henley & Partners, “this addition means that the index now encompasses almost all of the world’s destinations for which travel information is publicly available, making it the most robust index of its kind. The Henley Passport Index surveys a total of 199 different passports against 227 different travel destinations, including countries, territories, and micro-states. The index is innovating the way we map and measure travel freedom, making it easier for individuals to understand where exactly they lie on the spectrum of global mobility.”
The UAE races to the top as the Middle East region places tourism firmly on the agenda
Leading global efforts towards improved travel freedom is the UAE, which has gained access to eight new countries in 2018 alone: China, Ireland, Burkina Faso, Uruguay, Guinea, Tonga, Benin, and Honduras. The country’s reciprocal agreement with China in particular has led to the Emirati hospitality and tourist industries reporting growth of up to 70% compared to 2017, as Chinese travelers begin taking advantage of their newfound access to the Middle East’s main hub. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said recently that the country is actively strengthening its diplomatic efforts in a bid to have one of the top five passports in the world, as per the country’s Vision 2021.
Ryan Cummings, director of signal risk and a leading commentator on the MENA region, confirms this sentiment: “The visa-waiver agreements signed by the UAE to date are very much in line with the country’s ongoing intention to position itself as the foremost commercial hub in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) zone, where it is increasingly hosting the regional headquarters of multinational firms operating in culturally diverse industries such as healthcare, professional and financial services, and digital technologies. These developments also reflect the country’s publicized goal of shifting its economic dependence away from the extractive industry towards the tourism sector, where it aims to create an ambitious 720,000 employment opportunities by 2028.”
An increasingly globalized world
Discussing the Caribbean region, Dr. Suzette Haughton, a senior lecturer in Geography at the University of the West Indies, notes that countries such as Grenada, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic are actively strengthening their passport power through engagement with powerful Asian and Middle Eastern states — with this engagement visible in the migration space as well as in the travel space. As she explains: “A major development to watch in the upcoming quarter concerns the increasing mobility of Chinese and Taiwanese business migrants into the Caribbean region, coupled with the alignment of individual Caribbean countries’ national interest concerns with those of either China or Taiwan.”
China is gradually reciprocating the warm welcome it has received on the global stage. On 1 May, the government announced that citizens of 59 countries could travel to its popular Hainan province visa-free for a month — an unprecedented move for the traditionally closed-off nation.
Kälin commented, “Countries such as China and the UAE that are rapidly ascending the Henley Passport Index remind us that opening your borders to others results in reciprocal benefits and improved passport strength for your own citizens. The countries that perform well on the index are those that are embracing new models of global citizenship and adapting to, rather than shrinking away from, an increasingly globalized world. The index is a useful yardstick for intergovernmental policies and progress, and we expect to see further exciting developments with each quarterly update.”