For those who have a passion for travel, a passport is the key to achieving their desire. It is a gateway to the world and for some people, it removes the barricade of the freedom they seek. But with the rise of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the world, international travel is potentially a dream for the future. For 2021, the Henley Passport Index has published their quarterly update ranking the world’s most powerful passports, also not taking into account the recent temporary restrictions. They have published a report by bringing together experts on major and emerging trends in global and regional mobility.
Similar to last year, Japan tops the list of the world’s most powerful passports for 2021 with visa-free entry or on-arrival visa to 191 countries from around the world. This is the second year that Japan has been the top of the list, whereas in 2019 Japan was joint top with Singapore. Singapore, granting visa-free entry to 190 countries, is placed second this year, followed by South Korea and Germany, offering access to 189 countries.
New Zealand is in seventh position, granting access to 185 countries while Australia is in eight with access to 184 countries. New Zealand previously was in the top spot in July 2020 according to Arton Capital’s Passport Index, which updates its rankings in real time as new visa waivers are implemented. During the pandemic, New Zealand was granting visa-free access to 129 countries from around the world.
In the year 2020, there were very few visa agreements between countries, however, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) being a notable exception. The UAE and Israel went into a historic mutual visa waiver agreement whereby granting a tourist-entry visa to passport holders of each country. The UAE is in 16th place now with access to 173 countries. This makes UAE the biggest climber in the passport index with a leap of over 100 in the past 10 years. When the index started back in 2006, UAE was placed in 62nd position, with visa-free access to just 35 countries. Also, Emirati passports issued after 2011 have all been biometric passports and UAE is only the second GCC state to do so.
The Index has stated that APAC (Asia Pacific) regions have dominated the top part of the ranking in 2021 describing this as a ‘relatively new phenomenon’. The researches of the index have also noted that over its history, the top spots were occupied by EU countries or the US, but now they foresee that the domination of APAC region will continue as it includes some of the few countries to actually recover from the pandemic.
The UK and the US are joint seventh in the ranking with visa-free access to 185 countries. Nevertheless, with the current pandemic related travel restrictions, US passport holders can only travel to fewer than 75 countries and territories, while UK passport holders have their limit to 70. For comparison, passports from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are on the bottom of the list with access to fewer than 30 countries.
Dr. Christian H. Kalin, chair of Henley & Partners, which develops the Henley Passport Index explained that the new ranking can be a way to look back on the darker times that shaped 2020. He said: ‘Just a year ago all indications were that the rates of global mobility would continue to rise, that travel freedom would increase, and that holders of powerful passports would enjoy more access than ever before.’ This was however not possible due to the pandemic and other factors that came with it. He also added that the global lockdown had a negative impact on the projections and said that the results from the latest index shows the real meaning of passport power in a world shaken by the pandemic. On top of that, now with a new variant of the virus being seen in major cities of Europe, international travel still seems a thing in the future.