COVID-19 pandemic erodes strength of premium passports
Plummeting UK and US passport power at an all-time low.
Isolationism and nationalism block the path to economic revival.
In post-COVID world, citizenship matters more than ever before.
As the world scrambles to recover from the effects of the global health emergency, urgent questions around international travel remain: Is a return to pre-pandemic levels possible? How will it be achieved? And who will be left behind? The latest results and research from the original ranking of all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa — show that while there is cause for optimism, it must be tempered with the reality that cross-border travel continues to be significantly obstructed. Although some progress has been made, between January to March 2021, international mobility had been restored to just 12% of pre-pandemic levels in the same period in 2019, and the gulf between theoretical and actual travel access offered by even high-ranking passports remains significant.
With the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics just weeks away, and the country in a ‘quasi’ state of emergency, Japan nonetheless retains its hold on the number one spot on the Henley Passport Index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — with a theoretical visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 193.
While the dominance of European passports in the Top Ten has been a given for most of the index’s 16-year history, the pre-eminence of three Asian states — Japan, Singapore, and South Korea — has become the new normal. Singapore remains in 2nd place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 192, and South Korea continues to share joint-3rd place with Germany, each with a score of 191.
However, when compared to the actual travel access currently available even to the holders of top-scoring passports, the picture looks very different: holders of Japanese passports have access to fewer than 80 destinations (equivalent to the passport power of Saudi Arabia, which sits way down in 71st place in the ranking) while holders of Singaporean passports can access fewer than 75 destinations (equivalent to the passport power of Kazakhstan, which sits in 74th place).
Plummeting UK and US passport power at an all-time low
There is a similarly gloomy outlook even in countries with highly successful Covid-19 vaccine rollouts: the UK and the US currently share joint-7th place on the index, following a steady decline since they held the top spot in 2014, with their passport holders theoretically able to access 187 destinations around the world. Under current travel bans, however, UK passport holders have suffered a dramatic drop of over 70% in their travel freedom, currently able to access fewer than 60 destinations globally — a passport power equivalent to that of Uzbekistan on the index. US passport holders have seen a 67% decrease in their travel freedom, with access to just 61 destinations worldwide — a passport power equivalent to Rwanda’s on the Henley Passport Index.
It’s uncertain how long travel restrictions will remain in place, but it seems clear that global mobility will be seriously hampered throughout 2021 at least. In many countries, serious doubts have arisen as to the ability to handle a global crisis, with the subsequent embrace of more inward-looking priorities. Increasing isolationism and deglobalization will no doubt have profound consequences, among them further damage to the world’s economy, a significant reduction in global mobility, and restrictions on people’s freedom to make the best choices for their families and their businesses. It is clear that more than ever, people need to expand their residence and passport options.