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Rights of Passage — Henley Passport Index 2018

3 April, 2018

Sometime towards the end of the 15th century, the French word passeport (from passer, ‘to pass’, and either port, ‘harbor, or porte, ‘city gate’) was adopted by the embryonic hybrid language that would eventually become English and simplified into ‘passport’. Today, this unassuming two-syllable word is the fulcrum on which much of global politics turns.

Modern passport laws have been in place in the West since the 1500s, but the emergence of long-distance railway systems in the 19th century made them all but impossible to enforce, and there were generally few barriers to international travel until World War I. Borders were still being defined and disputed; as such, they were only loosely patrolled.

It is difficult to even imagine such a world in 2018, when immigration policy is the central issue in every major national election, and the passport you are born with largely defines the course that your life takes. Liberalized trade patterns and the globalized economic system mean, quite simply, that mobility and access amount to opportunity and prosperity. But where exactly do you lie on the spectrum of global mobility? How does your level of access compare with others’? And what are the political factors governing the strength of your passport? Perhaps more importantly, if your passport is not serving you, what can you do to enhance it?

The 2018 Henley Passport Index was designed with these questions in mind. Launched 9 January, and replacing the Henley Visa Restrictions Index, the Henley Passport Index provides a ranking of the 199 passports of the world according to the number of countries their holders can travel to visa-free. The number of countries that a specific passport can access becomes its visa-free ‘score’. If two or more passports share a score, they will share a place on the global ranking. The ranking is accompanied by comprehensive lists of the countries each passport can access visa-free, with a visa on arrival, with an electronic visa (e-Visa), or with a traditional visa.

The Henley Passport Index is powered by data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which maintains the world’s largest and most accurate database of travel information, and is enhanced by extensive research by the Henley & Partners research team. In addition to being the original passport index, the Henley Passport Index is the only index with historical data spanning 13 years, and a database of 218 different travel destinations. It is also the only index of its kind that includes detailed insights from leading academics, researchers, and commentators on the major global and regional trends affecting migration, mobility, and border policy.

Key Regional Findings

  • The Seychelles is the highest-ranking African country, ranking 24th on the index, with visa-free access to 144 countries.
  • Over the past 10 years, the UAE has moved up an impressive 34 positions on the Henley Passport Index. Ranked 27th in 2018, a UAE passport now offers visa-free access to 140 countries.
  • Offering visa-free access to 180 countries, and ranked jointly first overall, Singapore remains the best-performing country in Southeast Asia. Singapore also achieved its highest ranking on the index in 10 years.
  • North Asian countries performed well on this year’s index, with Japan moving into joint first place and South Korea moving into joint third place. China climbed 11 places in 2018, gaining access to 13 new countries and claiming 74th place overall.
  • The Russian Federation moved up by six places on the 2018 Henley Passport Index to 45th place overall; it stands in second place within the region, behind Ukraine.

Key Insights

In 2017, headlines were dominated by the immigration-hostile rhetoric and policy circulating within Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states. Although Marine Le Pen’s right-wing populist Front National party was defeated in the French presidential election, populism appears to have won the day in a number of other OECD countries, including Germany, Austria, Australia, and New Zealand, where anti-immigration and ‘country first’ policies have gained traction. In the foreground, of course, were the travel bans and the ominous plans for a ‘Mexican wall’ coming out of Trump’s administration in the US, along with the increasingly uncertain Brexit negotiations unfolding across the Atlantic.

However, the reality on the ground in many parts of the world tells a different story. As Parag Khanna, leading global strategist and best-selling author, points out, the conservative sentiment in the US belies three important migratory facts:

  1. Mexican migration into the US is in fact net neutral, with as many Mexicans leaving the US to return to Mexico as are leaving Mexico for the US.
  2. Outbound US migration is on the rise, with retiring Americans moving south to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean in increasing numbers.
  3. The largest incoming migrant group to the US is in fact not from Mexico but from Asia.

Khanna believes that, while immigration may become more selective in 2018, the numbers will not necessarily drop. “Fundamentally,” he says, “migration is about supply and demand, and in the US, major industries such as technology and indeed manufacturing rely not just on the existing labor force but also on having a strong number of immigrants working in those areas… The technology sector especially is lobbying very heavily for immigration reform to maintain that flow of talent.”

In Asia-Pacific, the situation is similarly nuanced. Clampdowns on unskilled and skilled migration have become the norm in Australia and New Zealand, but other countries in the region are easing restrictions on mobility in an effort to attract talent. Taiwan, Japan, and China have all relaxed their visa requirements and residence laws to accommodate highly skilled foreigners. As Dr. Kate Coddington, Associate Professor of Geography at Durham University (UK), explains: “The push in the Pacific Rim to encourage skilled migrants opens doors just as opportunities for skilled migrant mobility elsewhere are potentially diminishing, with countries in the region taking advantage of skilled workers shut out of traditionally desirable locations.”

It is telling that of the 199 countries included in the 2018 Henley Passport Index, 195 either increased or maintained their visa-free score compared with 2017. Contrary to mainstream media narratives, global access seems to be stable or improving, although historically open destinations are becoming more closed — to their detriment, seemingly. “In the long term,” says Coddington, “countries that ease restrictions on migration should benefit, since migrants diversify their destinations, whereas the promotion of ‘country first’ migration agendas has the potential to limit migration, economic growth, and the development of diverse societies.”

The information provided here is based on the 2018 Henley Passport Index, as of 9 February 2018, and is subject to change. For the latest visa information, visit