Although the world is becoming ever more globalized, there remains a huge disparity in levels of travel freedom between countries. Visa requirements define and shape individuals’ ability to travel across borders. They also reflect strongly on each country’s relationships with others, and will take into account diplomatic relationships between the countries, reciprocal visa arrangements, security risks, and the risks of visa and immigration rules violations.
Henley & Partners, the global leaders in residence and citizenship planning, has published the annual Visa Restrictions Index for the last decade, and now launches the latest 2015 edition. This year’s Index, along with the unique cumulative data from the last ten years, gives an unprecedented and inimitable insight into the development of visa policies over this time.
Comparing the 2015 Index to the previous year shows many interesting results.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, has been catapulted into the spotlight as the biggest climber with its dramatic addition of 37 countries and improvement in rank from 55 to 40. It is also the biggest climber over the ten years of the Visa Restrictions Index, and one of only 22 to have moved up in the rankings over the last year.
Marco Gantenbein, Managing Partner of Henley & Partners in Dubai, comments, “Europe, the US and Canada, as the world’s economic powerhouses, continue to dominate the top 10 as we anticipated. However, it’s the performance of the UAE which needs to be applauded for the implied improvement of its international relations, which is very much reflected in the improved ranking in the Henley & Partners Index”.
Malta, the EU country which runs the world’s most successful citizenship-by-investment program with over EUR 1 billion in capital raised since its launch about 18 months ago, further improved its position and now has the 7th best passport in the world.
Two countries have held their position in the top spot with visa-free access to 173 countries out of a possible 218, Germany and the UK. Finland, Sweden and the US all dropped to 2nd place. The four worst passports in the world remain Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Pakistan.
Looking at movement over the last decade throws up other interesting patterns.
European countries are notable for their stability over this time - Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain and Sweden all remain in exactly the same position as 10 years before. The Top Ten are almost identical, with 30 countries in 2015, compared to 26 ten years before.
While Liechtenstein dropped, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Malta, Slovakia and South Korea all made it into the top ten. Taiwan, Albania, UAE, Bosnia and Serbia all moved up more than 20 places in the Index over the last ten years, while the biggest drops were experienced by Guinea (-32), Liberia (-33), Sierra Leone (-35) and Bolivia (-37).
The growing importance of investment migration can be seen in steady growth of those countries offering residence and citizenship-by-investment. Those countries with relevant programs continue to perform strongly and all now feature in the top 40 of the Index.
It is encouraging to see Malta enter the top 10 after launching its Malta Individual Investor Programme, which is ranked as the best citizenship-by-investment program in the world in the Global Residence and Citizenship Programs 2015 Report. Portugal, whose program earned the title as best residence-by-investment program, is in 4th position this year; and the leading Caribbean country, Antigua and Barbuda, moved up again this year.
The continued development of these countries demonstrates the critical nature of good visa-free access to counties offering investor immigration programs. In turn, this speaks of the importance of due diligence in such programs, since the reputation of a country’s passport and its relationship with other countries is only as good as its newest citizens.
This decade has also seen the launch of the Investment Migration Council, the worldwide association for investor immigration and citizenship-by-investment, highlighting the increasing understanding and acceptance of this important force in globalization.
Henley & Partners’ powerful insight and experience continues to lead the industry, supporting both governments to create and manage the top immigration programs in the world, and individuals to improve their lives by achieving alternative residence or citizenship.
The global progress in travel freedom looks set to continue for citizens of all countries.