According to the latest data from the Henley Passport Index, which ranks all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa and is based on exclusive statistics from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Japan and Singapore have shown record-breaking levels of travel freedom by jointly gaining the top spot on the Index. Without taking temporary Covid-related restrictions into account, passport holders of the two Asian nations can now enter 192 destinations around the world visa-free.
Talking about India, the country has improved its ranking on the index recorded for Q1 of 2022 from last year, climbing seven places to rank in 83rd place compared to last year’s 90th position. With the power of an Indian passport, now the citizens have visa-free access to 60 destinations worldwide with Oman and Armenia being the latest addition to the list of countries Indian passport holders can visit without obtaining a visa in comparison to 58 visa-free access destinations in Q4 2021.
At the bottom of the index sits Afghanistan, at the 111th spot with visa-free access to 26 destinations globally. Whereas, Germany and South Korea hold onto joint 2nd spot on the latest ranking, with passport holders able to access 190 destinations visa-free, while Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, and Spain share 3rd place, with a score of 189. The US and the UK passports have regained some of their previous strength after falling to 8th place in 2020 – the lowest spot held by either country in the index’s 17-year history. Both countries now sit in 6th place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 186.
Travel freedom has generally expanded significantly since the first Henley Passport Index was published 17 years ago. In 2006, the global average number of countries that could be visited without having to obtain a visa in advance was 57. In 2022, the average has risen to 107. But this apparent progress is masking a growing divide in mobility — and the resulting access to opportunities — between citizens in the wealthy global North and those in the lower-income global South, which includes many fragile states. Japanese, Swedish, and US passport holders can visit more than 180 destinations without a visa, whereas citizens of Angola, Cameroon, and Laos can visit only about 50.
Commenting on the development, Dr Christian H Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, says opening up migration channels is essential for post-pandemic recovery. “Passports and visas are among the most important instruments impacting on social inequality worldwide as they determine opportunities for global mobility. The borders within which we happen to be born, and the documents we are entitled to hold, are no less arbitrary than our skin colour. Wealthier states need to encourage positive inward migration to help redistribute and rebalance human and material resources worldwide,” he said.
Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety, and Security, says that much of the progress made over the past two decades to put passengers in control of their journeys through self-service processes has been undone due to pandemic-related restrictions. “Before traffic ramps up again, we have a window of opportunity to deliver long-term efficiency improvements for passengers, airlines, airports, and governments. Our recent survey found that 73 per cent of passengers are willing to share their biometric data to improve airport processes (up from 46 per cent in 2019), and 88 per cent will share immigration information prior to departure for expedited processing,” he stated.