Dr. Juerg Steffen is the CEO of Henley & Partners
As it does at the beginning of every year, the release of the latest ranking from the Henley Passport Index (HPI) provides us with unique insight into the year that has been, in addition to offering a view of what may lie ahead in terms of global mobility and migration.
For the fifth year running, Japan crowns the Henley Passport Index, which is based on exclusive and official data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Japanese citizens are now able to visit a remarkable 193 destinations out of 227 around the world visa-free, while South Koreans and Singaporeans, whose countries are tied in 2nd place on the index, enjoy a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 192.
Germany and Spain are joint 3rd, with visa-free access to 190 destinations worldwide. The UK and the US remain in 6th and 7th places, with scores of 187 and 186, respectively. Although a lot can change within the course of a year, it does appear increasingly unlikely that either country will regain the top spot on the index which they jointly held in 2014. Afghanistan remains firmly at the bottom of the index, with a score of just 27 — 166 fewer visa-free destinations than Japan, which represents the widest global mobility gap in the index’s 18-year history.
It has been a turbulent 12 months, with the world scrambling to regain some semblance of predictability after the chaos and shock of the great global shutdown. The pandemic changed all our lives in so many ways, but over the past six months, some sense of normality has been restored. Global travel, for instance, is now at around 75% of pre-pandemic levels, but deeper analysis of the index reveals the darker side to this optimistic picture. As indicated by exclusive new research conducted by Henley & Partners into the link between passport strength and access to the global economy, citizens of the index’s lowest-ranking countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq (visa-free score of 29), and Syria (visa-free score of 30) are effectively shut out of most opportunities for economic mobility and growth.
By combining Henley Passport Index data and World Bank GDP data, the new study ranks all 199 passports in the world in terms of their Henley Passport Power (HPP) score, a term that indicates the percentage of global GDP each passport provides to its holders’ visa-free. Take the Japanese passport, for instance, that gives visa-free access to 193 destinations (85% of the world). Collectively, these countries account for a whopping 98% of the global economy (with Japan’s own GDP contribution being around 5%). At the bottom of the ranking, the Afghanistan passport provides visa-free access to 12% of the world and less than 1% of global economic output.
In terms of percentage of global GDP, the US and China have the lion’s share, with 25% and 19% respectively, but American passport holders can access a further 43% of the world’s economic output visa-free, bringing their total to 68%, whereas Chinese passport holders can access only an additional 7% visa-free, taking their total access to just 26% of global GDP.
Looking at another set of comparisons, South Korea and Russia have similar national GDPs of around 1.9% of global economic output. However, South Korea has a Henley Passport Index score of 192, giving its passport holders access to 81% of global GDP, while Russia has a score of 118, giving its passport holders access to just 19% of the world’s economy. India fares even worse, despite having the world’s fifth-largest economy: its passport holders can access just 59 destinations worldwide, and 6.7% of global GDP, of which the country’s own GDP accounts for around half.
The UAE remains the Henley Passport Index’s great success story, with the country having climbed an astonishing 49 places up the ranking over the past 10 years. Ranking 64th in at the end of 2012, with a score of 72, the UAE now sits in 15th place, with a score of 178 and access to nearly 70% of global GDP. By contrast, The Gambia is the biggest faller on the index over the past decade. Ironically, it ranked immediately above the UAE in at the end of 2012, in 63rd place, but while the UAE passport has soared, The Gambia’s has followed a radically different trajectory. It currently sits in 77th place, having fallen 14 spots over 10 years, with a score of just 69 and access to only 5% of the world’s economic output.
Most of the countries that have fallen sharply over the preceding decade have been afflicted by conflict and economic crises — Yemen, Syria, Sierra Leone, and Mali among them — a bleak illustration of the proven link between passport power and financial stability.
Looking ahead to other potential future success stories in 2023, analysists anticipate that Kuwait and Qatar will sign a visa-free deal with the EU this year — a move that will dramatically enhance both countries’ Henley Passport Index scores, as their passport holders will be granted visa-free access to all 27 EU member states. While Asian countries still dominate the very top of the index, the growing passport strength of Gulf countries has been identified as a key trend in the coming year.
The Ukraine war is yet to have a significant impact on the Henley Passport Index scores of Russia and Ukraine, with both countries retaining roughly the same position “on paper” since the invasion began. Russia is currently ranked 49th with a score of 118, while Ukraine sits 13 places above, ranking 36th with a score of 144. However, due to airspace closures and sanctions, Russian citizens are effectively barred from traveling throughout most of the developed world, with the marked exceptions of Dubai and Turkey, which have become focal points.
Ukrainians, on the other hand, have been granted the right to live and work in the EU for up to three years under an emergency plan in response to what has become Europe’s biggest refugee crisis this century. Already one of the biggest climbers on the Henley Passport Index, moving up 24 places over the past decade, Ukraine would likely break into the Top Ten most powerful passports in the world if it were to join the EU. Negotiations for membership are due to begin in earnest in the next few months after the EU approved Ukraine’s application for EU candidate status in record time last June.
As they have done throughout the index’s 18-year history, countries with residence and citizenship by investment programs fare very well on the 2023 ranking. Malta, for instance, sits in 8th place, with a score of 185, while Caribbean states such as St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Lucia have performed strongly, sitting in 26th and 33rd place, with scores of 157 and 147, respectively.
In a highly unpredictable and volatile world, economic mobility and cross-country visa-free access to more stable economies helps investors mitigate risk and secure additional income streams. For instance, if an investor acquires a St. Kitts and Nevis passport through the country’s citizenship by investment program, they secure the rights and benefits that come with being a citizen of that country as well as the considerable advantage of visa-free access to nearly 40% of global GDP. In the case of Malta, its investment migration offering provides access to over 80% of the world visa-free as well as nearly 70% of global GDP. For investors from countries with poor visa-free access, the global mobility and economic advantages and opportunities associated with acquiring a more powerful passport are indisputable.