Singapore has moved down one spot to 2nd place, alongside Germany, with visa-free access or visa-on-arrival to 188 countries, as Japan consolidates its spot at the top of the Henley Passport Index, now offering its citizens access to a record total of 189 destinations, including Benin as of March.
Third place is shared by six countries: one Asian (South Korea) and the rest European (Finland, France, Italy, Spain, and Sweden).
While Schengen Area countries have traditionally topped the index as a result of their open access to Europe, developed Asian nations have been able to secure equally high scores in recent years thanks to their strong international trade and diplomatic relations. With close to 40 visa-waiver agreements signed by governments since the start of the year, passport-holders around the world go into the summer season with greater collective access than ever before.
Boosting this trend, Russia — which is usually off-limits to nationals of most countries — announced in April that visas would be waived for all travelers holding tickets to the June–July FIFA World Cup. Nonetheless, the country has fallen from 45th to 47th position on the Henley Passport Index compared to Q1, thus far unable to catch up to regional leaders Ukraine and Moldova, both of which have signed a number of visa agreements since the start of the year.
The UAE, in 23rd place, remains the fastest overall climber on the index, ascending 38 places since 2008. The country has secured more new visa-waivers for its citizens in 2018 than any other jurisdiction in the world and is quickly closing in on the lead that Israel, in 19th place, has historically held within the Middle East region.
The U.S. and the UK are tied in 4th place, along with Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Portugal; the US has climbed one place compared to Q1 while the UK has remained stable.
Having gained access to the UAE, Oman, and Bosnia and Herzegovina this year, China has significantly strengthened its position on the ranking, climbing from 74th to 68th position since Q1 — although the country’s relatively low score of 70 visa-free or visa-on-arrival destinations means that it still cannot compete with North Asian high-performers Japan and South Korea.
The Henley Passport Index is based on exclusive data from IATA, has recently been updated through extensive research to include eight new travel destinations. Dominic Volek, Managing Partner of Henley & Partners Singapore and Head of Southeast Asia, says that the continuous updates made to the index make it the most informative and dynamic index of its kind.
“The index now encompasses almost all of the world’s destinations for which travel information is publicly available. The Henley Passport Index surveys a total of 199 different passports against 227 different travel destinations, including countries, territories, and micro-states. The index is innovating the way we map and measure travel freedom, making it easier for individuals to understand where exactly they lie on the spectrum of global mobility,” Volek said. “In order to ensure our index is the most robust, we’re continuously improving our methodology. With that said, although Singapore moved down slightly in ranking due to its loss of visa-free access to Kosovo, with the addition of new destinations to our database, such as Greenland, Faroe Islands, Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Palestinian Territories, Vatican City, and Monaco, we’ve seen Singapore’s score move up from 180 to 188 since Q1.”
China Starting to Open Up
So far, 2018 has seen little to no activity in the European and North American visa-policy space, although American and British foreign policy continues to dominate headlines. By contrast, dozens of new immigration and border policies have been legislated by countries in Asia and the former Soviet Union in recent months, as well as in Africa and the Caribbean.
Following the general pro-tourism trend emerging in the Middle East, governments in other regions are seeking to boost visitor inflows as a means of stimulating economic growth, strengthening diplomatic ties, and improving travel prospects for their own citizens.
Discussing the Caribbean region, Dr. Suzette Haughton, a Senior Lecturer in Geography at the University of the West Indies, notes that countries such as Grenada, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic are actively strengthening their passport power through engagement with powerful Asian and Middle Eastern states — and this engagement is visible in the migration space as well as in the travel space.
“A major development to watch in the upcoming quarter concerns the increasing mobility of Chinese and Taiwanese business migrants into the Caribbean region, coupled with the alignment of individual Caribbean countries’ national interest concerns with those of either China or Taiwan,” Dr Haughton said.
China, which has historically been very difficult to access, is gradually reciprocating the warm welcome it has received on the global stage. On May 1, the government announced that citizens of 59 countries could travel to its popular Hainan province visa-free for a month — an unprecedented move for the traditionally closed-off nation.
Volek said, “Countries such as China and the UAE that are rapidly ascending the Henley Passport Index remind us that opening your borders to others results in reciprocal benefits and improved passport strength for your own citizens. The countries that perform well on the index are those that are embracing new models of global citizenship and adapting to, rather than shrinking away from, an increasingly globalized world. The index is a useful yardstick for intergovernmental policies and progress, and we expect to see further exciting developments with each quarterly update.”© Asia Travel Tips