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Asia Dominates When it Comes to Passport Power in 2020


As we enter the new decade, Asian countries have firmly established their lead on the Henley Passport Index, the original ranking of all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.

For the third consecutive year, Japan has secured the top spot on the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 191. Singapore holds onto 2nd-place position with a score of 190, while South Korea drops down a rank to 3rd place alongside Germany, with access to 189 destinations.

The US and the UK continue their downward trajectory. While both countries remain in the top 10, their shared 8th-place position is a significant decline from the number one spot they jointly held in 2015.

Elsewhere in the top 10, Finland and Italy share 4th place, with a score of 188, while Denmark, Luxembourg, and Spain together hold 5th place, with a score of 187. The index’s historic success story remains the UAE, which has climbed a remarkable 47 places over the past 10 years and now sits in 18th place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 171. Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the index, with access to only 26 destinations worldwide.

Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners, says although people are more mobile than ever before, the latest results also indicate a growing divide when it comes to travel freedom. “Japanese passport holders are able to access 165 more destinations than Afghan nationals. Analysis of our historical data reveals that this extraordinary global mobility gap is the starkest it’s been since the index’s inception in 2006.”

Analysing the index’s historic data, political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli, of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh respectively, have also found a strongly positive correlation between travel freedom and other kinds of liberties – from the economic to the political, and even individual or human freedoms. They observe that “there’s a distinct correlation between visa freedom and investment freedom, for instance.

Similar to trade freedom, European states such as Austria, Malta, and Switzerland that have a business-friendly environment, tend to rank highly when it comes to passport power. Likewise, by using the Human Freedom Index, we have found a strong correlation between personal freedoms such as identity, association and expression, and travel freedom.”

The impact of these and other key developments is analysed in depth in the 2020 edition of the Henley Passport Index and Global Mobility Report — a unique publication that offers cutting-edge analysis and commentary from leading scholars and professional experts on the latest trends shaping international and regional mobility patterns today.

Commenting in the report, Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, says the future of mobility between Britain and the EU remains uncertain. “The newly elected Conservative government have promised an ‘Australian-style’ points-based system that would be more liberal than current policies towards non-EU citizens, though still much more restrictive than free movement.”

Noting that the looming threat of Brexit has potentially made Britain a less attractive destination for EU citizens, Sumption points out that net EU migration to the UK fell by 59% between 2015 and 2018.

Going into the new year, Dr. Juerg Steffen, CEO of Henley & Partners, says countries with citizenship-by-investment programs continue to consolidate their positions on the index. “Demand is accelerating, just as the supply has grown globally, with both nations and wealthy individuals viewing these programs as an absolute requirement in a volatile world where competition for capital is fierce.

Malta currently sits in 9th place, with access to 183 destinations, while Montenegro holds on to 46th place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 124. In the Caribbean, St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda have secured 27th and 30th spot, respectively.”

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