Singapore, Japan retain lead on passport index while US and UK decline

Singapore and Japan hold top spot

Moving into the third quarter of 2019, Japan and Singapore hold onto top spot on the Henley Passport Index, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 189, while the US and UK are in their lowest position since 2010.

This latest ranking of passport power and global mobility – which is based on exclusive data from IATA marks the culmination of an 18-month long winning streak, after they unseated Germany from its long-held top position at the beginning of 2018.

Singapore and Japan passports currently hold top spot

Falling from the top spot it shared last quarter, South Korea now sits in second place along with Finland and Germany, accessing 187 destinations without a prior visa.

Finland’s ascent is due to recent changes to Pakistan’s formerly highly restrictive visa policy.

In the hope of attracting tourists and boosting its struggling economy, Pakistan now offers an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) to 50 countries – notably excluding the UK or the US.

With a score of 183, the UK and the US now share sixth place – the lowest position either country has held since 2010, and a significant drop from their top rankings in 2014.

Denmark, Italy and Luxembourg share third place, while France, Spain and Sweden sit in joint fourth.

In significant shifts elsewhere, the UAE has entered the top 20 for the first time in the index’s 14-year history, more than doubling its number of visa-free destinations over the past five years. Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the global mobility spectrum, with access to just 25 destinations worldwide.

Throughout most of the index’s history, the UK has held one of the top five places in the ranking. However, with its exit from the EU now imminent, the UK’s once-strong position looks increasingly uncertain.

The Brexit process has not yet had a direct impact on the UK’s ranking, but new research using exclusive historical data from the Henley Passport Index indicates that this could change, with consequences that extend beyond a decline in passport power.

Political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli, of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh respectively, have found a link between visa-openness and progressive reform.

They say “the prospect of visa-waiver agreements with the EU has encouraged neighbouring countries to adopt important reforms in areas such as civil and political rights, rule of law, and security”.

They note that freedom of movement appears to be a vital pre-condition not only for economic growth, but also for social integration and progressive political change.

With nationalism on the rise, and global powerhouses like the UK and the US embracing policies that limit freedom of movement, this new research indicates that associated impacts on political rights, rule of law, security and democracy could be profound.

Christian Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners, and the creator of the passport index concept, said: “This latest research appears to confirm something that many of us already knew intuitively: that increased visa-openness benefits the entire global community, and not just the strongest countries.”

Countries with citizenship-by-investment programmes continue to perform strongly on the index, and demonstrate a similar connection between passport power and economic and social progress.

Malta now sits in seventh place with a score of 182, just one spot behind the UK and the US. Cyprus retains its 16th place, with a score of 172, while the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda is now in 29th place, rising 11 spots over the past decade.

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