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Visa Restrictions Index Shows Growing Importance of Investment Migration

1 April 2016

There continues to be a huge disparity in the levels of travel freedom between countries, despite the world becoming more mobile and interdependent. Generally, visa requirements 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 launched its online Visa Restrictions Index in February this year, offering a comprehensive analysis of the countries’ progress and development since the Index was first published in 2006.

The growing importance of investment migration can be seen in steady growth of those countries offering residence and citizenship-by-investment programs. Those countries with relevant programs continue to perform strongly and all now feature in the top 30 of the Index.

Malta, the EU member country which runs the world’s most successful citizenship-by-investment program with over EUR 1 billion in capital raised since its launch in 2014, has gained visa-free access to another two countries since 2015, making it the 9th most powerful passport in the world with visa-free access to 168 countries. Another key location of citizenship-by-investment in Europe, Cyprus, also added two countries to its basket, ranking 17th on the Index with visa-free access to 159 countries. The leading Caribbean citizenship-by-investment location, Antigua and Barbuda, ranked 30th and its passport-holders may now travel to 134 countries visa-free.

Portugal, which holds the most attractive residence-by-investment program through its Golden Visa Program, has taken 6th position in the 2016 Index, gaining two countries to total 172 countries its citizens may travel to visa-free.

The continued development of these countries demonstrates the critical nature of good visa-free access to countries offering investor migration 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.

Overall, comparing the 2016 Index to previous years shows many interesting results. Germany has retained its position in the top spot, with visa-free access to 177 countries out of a total of 219, while Sweden remained in second place with a ranking of 176. The UK meanwhile, dropped from 1st to 3rd place this year, after three consecutive years in sharing 1st place. A larger group of countries sit in 3rd place, with Finland, France, Italy, Spain and the UK all having visa-free access to 175 countries.

Generally, there was significant movement across the board with only 21 of the 199 countries listed remaining in the same rank. No country however, dropped more than three positions, indicating that overall, visa-free access is improving around the world. Four countries in particular made huge gains; Tonga rising 16 spots, Palau by 20, Colombia by 25 and Timor-Leste, a Southeast Asian nation, being the highest climber with an increase of 33 ranks.

Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan meanwhile, continue to hold the bottom four positions on the Index, and thus have again been labelled the worst passports in the world. The number of countries in the ‘Top 10’ remained static in this year’s Index at 28 countries, with Malaysia dropping to 12th position after three years in the premier group.

Henley & Partners’ insight and experience continues to lead the industry, supporting governments to create and manage the top immigration programs in the world, and individuals to improve their lives by achieving alternative residence or citizenship.