Japan has overtaken Singapore to claim the top spot on the 2018 Henley Passport Index, having gained visa-free access to Myanmar earlier this month. Japan now enjoys visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to 190 destinations, compared to Singapore’s total of 189. Japan and Singapore have been neck and neck on the index since they both climbed to 1st place in February — following a visa-exemption from Uzbekistan — and pushed Germany down to 2nd place for the first time since 2014.
This quarter, Germany has fallen further to 3rd place, which it now shares with South Korea and France. France moved up from 4th to 3rd place last Friday when it gained visa-free access to Uzbekistan, while South Korea moved from 4th to 3rd place on 1 October when it gained visa-free access to Myanmar. Germany, France, and South Korea all have a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 188. Iraq and Afghanistan continue to hold the bottom (106th) spot of the Henley Passport Index, with only 30 destinations accessible to their citizens.
The US and the UK, both with 186 destinations, have also slid down one spot — from 4th to 5th place — with neither having gained access to any new jurisdictions since the start of 2018. With stagnant outbound visa activity compared to Asian high-performers such as Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, it seems increasingly unlikely that the US and the UK will regain the number 1 spot they jointly held in 2015.
Russia received a boost in September when Taiwan announced a visa-waiver for Russian nationals (valid until July 2019), but the country has nonetheless fallen from 46th to 47th place compared to Q3, because of movements higher up in the ranking. The same is true of China: Chinese nationals obtained access to two new jurisdictions (St. Lucia and Myanmar), but the Chinese passport fell two places this quarter, to 71st overall. This is still an impressive 14-place improvement over the position that China held at the start of 2017.
What has been most remarkable in recent years is the UAE’s stunning ascent on the Henley Passport Index, from 62nd place in 2006 to 21st place worldwide currently. The UAE now holds the number 1 passport in the Middle East region.
Dr. Christian H. Kälin, Group Chairman of Henley & Partners, commented on these developments: “The Henley Passport Index, which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), is an important tool for measuring not only the relative strength of the world’s passports but also the extraordinary results that states can achieve when they work hand in hand with their global peers to build a more interconnected and collaborative world. China and the UAE exemplify this kind of progress, with both states among the highest overall climbers compared to 2017, purely as a result of the strong relationships they have built with partner countries around the world.”
The UAE and Russia consolidate their international position
Strengthening its position as the passport-power champion of the Middle East, the UAE signed a visa-waiver with Russia in July, which is due to come into effect in the coming months.
Commenting on the UAE’s latest visa-waiver agreement, Ryan Cummings, Director of Signal Risk, said that it is aimed at “strengthening bilateral relations between the UAE and another global superpower”, following the visa-waiver signed with China earlier this year. Specifically, this latest agreement with Russia will help the UAE “lower its dependence on its hydrocarbon sector and continue its robust economic growth trajectory” by stimulating tourism and trade.
Tim Geschwindt, Analyst at S-RM Intelligence and Risk Consulting, says the agreement also speaks to Russia’s shifting position within the international community: “The country is continuing to seek improved bilateral relations, as well as trade, investments, and tourism ties, with new partners. Russia’s recent decision to grant visa-free travel access to not only Emiratis but also citizens of several other nations speaks to this effort. Russia’s agreement with the UAE in particular is part of a foreign policy push to attract foreign investment into the country, especially from Emirati businesses and businesspeople.”
Kosovo–EU visa-liberalization on the cards
Looking ahead, the most dramatic climb on the Henley Passport Index might come from Kosovo, which officially met all the criteria for visa-liberalization with the EU in July and is now in discussions with the European Council.
Prof. Florian Trauner, Research Professor at the Institute for European Studies at the Free University of Brussels, commented on this development: “The approval of the European Parliament is a recognition of the hard work done by the Kosovar authorities to fulfill the conditions set by the EU. The discussion within the Council will remain difficult, however. Several member states are reluctant to grant visa-liberalization. Relaxing visa rules may be criticized as being lenient on migration control — a criticism few want to risk in a time when right-wing populist parties are on the rise.”
Citizenship-by-investment countries make strong gains
Countries with citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programs in place all fall within the top 50 of the Henley Passport Index and are continually rising up the ranking. Newcomer Moldova, for example, which launched its CBI program in the second half of this year, has climbed 20 places since 2008. Every CBI program country has improved its visa-free/visa-on-arrival score since the start of the year.
“CBI programs offer access to some of the world’s strongest and most promising passports,” says Dr. Kälin, “and the merit of these passports is a reflection of the underlying stability and attractiveness of the countries themselves. The travel freedom that comes with a second passport is significant for individuals, while the economic and societal value that CBI programs generate for host countries can be transformative.”