While travel appears to be restricted for the near future, the updated Henley Passport Index gives our passports a bit of attention while they sit unused.
In its methodology, the sole discriminator between passport rankings is the number of countries the passport permits you to travel as a tourist and visa-free. The caveat being that “visa-free” includes visas on arrival and that the current rankings do not take temporary restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic into account.
For its 2021 revision, Asian-Pacific countries lead the way with Japan being the undisputed top of the ranks. Verified by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) there are 191 countries admitting citizens from the Land of the Rising Sun. For three consecutive years Japan has held its first position either solely or jointly with Singapore, which currently sits second with 190 countries.
It is only recently that Asia-Pacific countries have risen to its lofty ranks. These were traditionally held by EU countries, the U.K. or the U.S.
The Biggest Risers
Even though 2020 travel was heavily suppressed, the United Arab Emirates notably brokered many bilateral visa-waiver agreements which included the United States and Israel. At 173 countries and its current 16th spot, this is a remarkable rise from 62nd position and 35 visa-free countries just 15 years prior.
Questioning the methodology
Henley classifies electronic travel authority systems as “visa-free”. Such examples being: the ESTA for the United States, ETA for Australia, eTA for Canada, NZeTA for New Zealand and the upcoming ETIAS for the Schengen Area. In contrast, e-Visas which are required before travel are not counted towards the ranking despite being virtually identical in practice. In either scenario the passport holder is not permitted to enter if the authorisation is not gained prior to travel.
The other notable practice is how the ranking positions themselves are classified. In more familiar standard competition ranking, several positions are omitted in cases of ties. Henley instead uses the rather less common “Dense Ranking” so that a passport claiming to be in “fifth place” will actually have more than four countries ahead of it. One wonders whether this has anything to do with their intrinsic business of selling legal services to assist with the application of citizenships by investment. After all, advertising their own services for acquiring a Maltese Passport sounds much more enticing as 8th best rather than its more factual joint 22nd.
The top ten positions according to the Henley Passport Index are (visa-free countries):
- Japan (191)
- Singapore (190)
- South Korea, Germany (189)
- Italy, Finland, Spain, Luxembourg (188)
- Denmark, Austria (187)
- Sweden, France, Portugal, Netherlands, Ireland (186)
- Switzerland, United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium, New Zealand (185)
- Greece, Malta, Czech Republic, Australia (184)
- Canada (183)
- Hungary (181)
Far away from frictionless travel
While it may seem never-ending, rumors within the industry are indicating medium term measures such as mandatory vaccinations or IATA’s upcoming Travel Pass registration of immunization against Covid-19 may be something to enable passengers to cross international borders. So while the passport ranking still plays an important part, this may all be nullified should these restrictions get imposed.