How powerful is your passport?

The latest Henley Passport Index offers fascinating insights into geopolitical and economic progress globally. As the US and UK see their ranks drop slightly, the UAE’s has risen significantly.

Image of passport, map and customs stamp
With the UK deadlocked in talks over access to its borders, global competitors are affirming bilateral trade and visa ties. Since the last Henley Passport Index was published earlier this year — and reported and discussed at May's Festival of Global Mobility Thinking alongside Henley & Partners' Quality of Nationality Index (QNI) — Japan has overtaken Singapore to claim the top spot after gaining visa-free access to Myanmar earlier this month.Japan now enjoys visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to 190 destinations, compared to Singapore’s total of 189.

Change at the top for the title of most powerful passport

Japan and Singapore have been neck-and-neck on the index since they both climbed to first place in February following a visa-exemption from Uzbekistan, pushing Germany into second place for the first time since 2014.Germany has since fallen further to third in this latest index, a position it shares with South Korea and France. Germany, France, and South Korea all have a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 188.France moved up from fourth to third this month when it gained visa-free access to Uzbekistan, while South Korea’s passport became more powerful when it gained visa-free access to Myanmar.
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US and UK take fourth and fifth place

Behind Japan, Singapore, Germany, France and South Korea, the US and the UK, both with 186 destinations, have downsized from fourth to fifth place internationally.  Neither country has gained access to any new jurisdictions since the start of 2018.With stagnant outbound visa activity compared to Asian high-performers such as Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, it seems increasingly unlikely that the US and the UK will regain the number one spot they jointly held in 2015, says Henley & Partners.

Greater access for China and Russia

The strength of Chinese and Russian passports has also been relatively stable, falling in the rankings only because of movements above them in the table.Russian passport holders received a boost in September when Taiwan announced a visa-waiver for Russian nationals until July 2019, but falls from 46th to 47th place.Chinese nationals also obtained access to two new jurisdictions (St Lucia and Myanmar), but the Chinese passport fell two places this quarter, to 71st overall. This is still a 14-place improvement over the position that China held at the start of 2017.

UAE among the highest climbers

Among the index’s top performers is the UAE. In 62nd place in 2006, it has moved up to 21st today. The UAE is now the number one passport in the Middle East region.Dr Christian H Kälin, group chair of Henley & Partners, said: “The Henley Passport Index, which is based in exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), is an important tool for measuring not only the relative strength of the world’s passports, but also the extraordinary results that states can achieve when they work hand in hand with their global peers to build a more interconnected and collaborative world.“China and the UAE exemplify this kind of progress, with both states among the highest overall climbers compared to 2017, purely as a result of the strong relationships they have built with partner countries around the world.”

The UAE and Russia consolidate their international positions

Strengthening its position as the passport-power champion of the Middle East, the UAE signed a visa-waiver with Russia in July, which is due to come into effect in the coming months.Commenting on the UAE’s latest visa-waiver agreement, Ryan Cummings, director of Signal Risk, said that it is aimed at “strengthening bilateral relations between the UAE and another global superpower”, following the visa-waiver signed with China earlier this year.Specifically, this latest agreement with Russia will help the UAE “lower its dependence on its hydrocarbon sector and continue its robust economic growth trajectory” by stimulating tourism and trade. Tim Geschwindt, analyst at S-RM Intelligence and Risk Consulting, says the agreement also speaks to Russia’s shifting position within the international community: “The country is continuing to seek improved bilateral relations, as well as trade, investments, and tourism ties, with new partners. Russia’s recent decision to grant visa-free travel access to not only Emiratis but also citizens of several other nations speaks to this effort. “Russia’s agreement with the UAE in particular is part of a foreign policy push to attract foreign investment into the country, especially from Emirati businesses and businesspeople.”

Outliers and outlooks

Iraq and Afghanistan continue to hold the bottom (106 out of 106) rank of the Henley Passport Index, with only 30 destinations accessible to their citizens.Looking ahead, Henley & Partners believe the most dramatic climb on the Henley Passport Index might come from Kosovo. The south-eastern European country officially met all the criteria for visa-liberalization with the EU in July and is now in discussions with the European Council.Professor Florian Trauner, research professor at the Institute for European Studies at the Free University of Brussels, commented on this development: “The approval of the European Parliament is a recognition of the hard work done by the Kosovar authorities to fulfill the conditions set by the EU."The discussion within the Council will remain difficult, however. Several member states are reluctant to grant visa-liberalization. Relaxing visa rules may be criticized as being lenient on migration control — a criticism few want to risk in a time when right-wing populist parties are on the rise.”

Citizenships for sale 

Countries with citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programmes in place all make the top 50 of the Henley Passport Index and are continually rising up the ranking.Newcomer Moldova, for example, which launched its CBI program in the second half of this year, has climbed 20 places since 2008. Every CBI program country has improved its visa-free/visa-on-arrival score since the start of the year.“CBI programs offer access to some of the world’s strongest and most promising passports,” says Dr. Kälin, “and the merit of these passports is a reflection of the underlying stability and attractiveness of the countries themselves.“The travel freedom that comes with a second passport is significant for individuals, while the economic and societal value that CBI programs generate for host countries can be transformative.”

The world's most powerful passports

  1. Japan (access to 190 jurisdictions)
  2. Singapore (access to 189 jurisdictions)
  3. South Korea, Germany, France (access to 188 jurisdictions)
  4. Denmark, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Spain (access to 187 jurisdictions)
  5. Norway, United Kingdom, Austria, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, United States (access to 186 jurisdictions)
From the Henley & Partners Henley Passport Index.Head to the Immigration section for more news and insight on the latest developments on visas and immigration policy. 
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