Japan retains top spot as Asia leads in passport survey

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Japan retains top spot as Asia leads in passport survey

Asian countries have firmly established their lead on the 2020 Henley Passport Index, the original ranking of all the world's passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.

For the third consecutive year, Japan has secured the top spot on the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 191.

Singapore holds onto its 2nd-place position with a score of 190, while South Korea drops down a rank to 3rd place alongside Germany, giving their passport holders visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to 189 destinations worldwide.

Over the past few years, the world has adapted to mobility as a permanent condition of global life. The latest rankings show that the countries that embrace this reality are thriving, with their citizens enjoying ever-increasing passport power and the array of benefits that come with it."

The US and the UK continue their downward trajectory on the index's rankings. While both countries remain in the top 10, their shared 8th-place position is a significant decline from the number one spot they jointly held in 2015.

Elsewhere in the top 10, Finland and Italy share 4th place, with a score of 188, while Denmark, Luxembourg, and Spain together hold 5th place, with a score of 187. The index's historic success story remains the steady ascent of the UAE, which has climbed a remarkable 47 places over the past 10 years and now sits in 18th place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 171.

On the other end of the travel freedom spectrum, Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the index, with its nationals only able to visit a mere 26 destinations visa-free.

Christian H. Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, says the latest ranking provides a fascinating insight into a rapidly changing world. "Asian countries' dominance of the top spots is a clear argument for the benefits of open-door policies and the introduction of mutually beneficial trade agreements.

"Over the past few years, the world has adapted to mobility as a permanent condition of global life. The latest rankings show that the countries that embrace this reality are thriving, with their citizens enjoying ever-increasing passport power and the array of benefits that come with it."

As ongoing research shows, these benefits are extensive. Using exclusive historical data from the Henley Passport Index, political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli, of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh respectively, have found that there is a strongly positive correlation between travel freedom and other kinds of liberties - from the economic to the political, and even individual or human freedoms.

Altundal and Zarpli observed that "there's a distinct correlation between visa freedom and investment freedom, for instance. Similar to trade freedom, countries that rank highly in investment freedom generally have stronger passports.

"European states such as Austria, Malta, and Switzerland clearly show that countries with a business-friendly environment tend to score highly when it comes to passport power. Likewise, by using the Human Freedom Index, we found a strong correlation between personal freedom and travel freedom."

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Christopher Copper-Ind

Christopher Copper-Ind is editor-in-chief of International Investment. Before this, he was editorial director of The Business Year, from 2014 to 2017.