The latest results from the Henley Passport Index, a ranking of all the world's passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa, provide exclusive insight into what post-pandemic travel freedom might look like as countries around the world selectively begin to open their borders to international visitors.
Without taking temporary and constantly evolving COVID-19 travel restrictions into account, Japan firmly holds onto the number one spot on the index — which is based on exclusive data from IATA — with Japanese passport holders theoretically able to access a record 193 destinations around the world visa-free.
Singapore remains in 2nd place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 192, while Germany and South Korea again share joint-3rd place, each with access to 191 destinations.
As has been the case for most of the index's 16-year history, the majority of the remaining top 10 spots are held by EU countries.
The UK and the U.S., both of which continue to face steadily eroding passport strength since they held the top spot in 2014, currently share joint-7th place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 187.
The latest results indicate that the gap in travel freedom is now at its largest since the index began in 2006, with Japanese passport holders able to access 167 more destinations than citizens of Afghanistan, who can visit only 26 destinations worldwide without acquiring a visa in advance.
Although there has been very little movement in the Henley Passport Index for the past five quarters since the outbreak of COVID-19, taking a step back reveals some interesting dynamics over the past decade.
Q2 2021 saw China entering the biggest climbers in the past decade for the first time. China has risen by 22 places in the ranking since 2011, from 90th position with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of just 40 to 68th position with a score of 77.
The most remarkable turnaround story on the index by far, however, is the UAE, which continues its stellar ascendance. In 2011, the UAE was ranked 65th with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 67, while today, thanks to the Emirates' ongoing efforts to strengthen diplomatic ties with countries across the globe, it is ranked 15th with a score of 174.
Dr Christian H Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, said the past year has demonstrated that no government is infallible — even the world's superpowers and wealthiest nations floundered — and many failed their citizens.
"While nobody expects a return to pre-pandemic mobility levels anytime soon, the outlook now is certainly more hopeful than it was even a few months ago. The latest ranking is a reminder that economic recovery and development are dependent on global mobility, including personal travel freedom, and that passport power should never be taken for granted," said Dr. Kaelin.
Looking ahead to what the rest of 2021 holds, experts commenting in the Global Mobility Report 2021 Q2 released by Henley & Partners, suggest that adaptability and responsiveness will be critical to future survival and success.
Dr Parag Khanna, Founder and Managing Partner of FutureMap, says the second half of the year may well see millions of people scattering again.
"The shifting patterns of migration in the post-COVID world (when it comes) will be non-linear and perhaps unpredictable," Dr Khanna said. "They will mimic the reality of a world in which there are many unfolding crises, from pandemics to climate change to political polarization. Countries facing fiscal pressures as well as skilled labor and investment shortages will seek to attract and recruit everyone from start-up entrepreneurs who can stimulate innovation to doctors and nurses who can boost public health services. The global war for talent is now well underway."© Travel News Asia