Visa-free access continues to increase globally

The latest Henley Passport Index has shown that despite a growing polarity in immigration discourse countries around the world continue to maintain or increase their visa free access.

Visa free access around the world
Germany has maintained first place on the Henley Passport Index for the fifth year running, with its citizens enjoying visa-free access to 177 countries in total, up from 176 countries in 2017.Singapore ranks second globally in the 2018 edition of the index, with visa-free access to 176 countries, while eight countries – Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and the UK – share third place, offering passport-holders access to 175 countries.Ranking jointly fourth on the index, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Spain all of which provide visa-free access to 174 countries.

The increasing divide in global mobility

The continuing movement towards greater visa-free access, potentially highlights a global desire of governments to increase global mobility and their access to foreign migration.Dr. Christian H. Kälin, group chairman of Henley & Partners, said, “There is no denying that a global mobility divide exists. We are also seeing a growing tendency towards a more isolationist, immigration-hostile policy among traditional migrant-receiving countries such as the US, and 2018 will bring further uncertainty, with the UK still in the grip of ongoing Brexit negotiations.“Nonetheless, only a small minority of countries on the Henley Passport Index lost visa-free access in 2018. By and large, countries either improved or maintained their access compared to 2017.“These findings reflect the fact that, while certain countries are tightening their borders, most are in fact becoming more open, as they seek to tap into the immense economic value that tourism, international commerce and migration can bring.”

Which countries offer the most visa-free access?

The Henley Passport Index maintains historical data spanning 13 years. The global ranking is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).The US is among the countries holding fifth place in the 2018 edition of the index, improving its visa-free score from 172 in 2017 to 173 in 2018.The Russian Federation, meanwhile, climbed three places to 48th position. China has shown the most growth in North Asia over the past year, moving up 10 places compared to 2017 and now ranking 75th globally.
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For the second year in a row, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan sit at the bottom of the Henley Passport Index, each able to access 30 or fewer countries visa-free.Dr. Kälin, says that the need for visa-free access is greater than ever, “Across the economic spectrum, individuals want to transcend the constraints imposed on them by their country of origin and access business, financial, career, and lifestyle opportunities on a global scale.“The Henley Passport Index shows individuals where they lie on the spectrum of global mobility, revealing the strength that their passport has in relation to other passports.”

Former Soviet Bloc countries climb the index following EU visa liberalisation

The biggest movers in this year’s index were Georgia and Ukraine, which completed the visa-liberalisation process with the EU in 2017 and gained access to 30 and 32 new countries, respectively. Georgia was the highest individual mover, climbing 15 places, while Ukraine ascended 14 ranks.China, Sierra Leone, Guinea, the Dominican Republic, and Indonesia also performed strongly this year, each gaining seven or more places compared to 2017.On the other end of the spectrum, 14 countries – Cyprus, Trinidad and Tobago, Sweden, Spain, Greece, Lithuania, Taiwan, Iran, Bangladesh, Nepal, Yemen, Antigua and Barbuda, North Korea and Syria – fared equally poorly in terms of downward movement on the index, all losing one place year-on-year. New Zealand descended the most, but fell by only two places.Of the 199 countries featured on the index, 143 improved their rank over the past year and 41 countries maintained their position.In terms of visa-free access, only seven countries saw their level of access reduced over the past year: Azerbaijan, New Zealand, Antigua and Barbuda, Algeria, Laos, North Korea, and Syria all lost visa-free access to a single country.In contrast, 18 countries maintained their level of access year-on-year, and the remainder of countries (174 in total) saw an improvement in their level of access compared to 2017.

Africa numbers decline, while North Asian, Southeast Asian, and Caribbean countries perform strongly

Of all the continents, Africa has suffered the most dramatic decline in travel freedom with African countries accounting for 19 of the 27 biggest fallers over the past decade.Only two African countries (the Seychelles and Mauritius) have improved their global rank since 2008, the Seychelles by 17 places and Mauritius by 16 places. The Seychelles is the highest-performing African country in 2018, ranking 27th on the index and moving up two places from 2017; the Seychellois passport provides visa-free access to 141 countries. Mauritius, is ranked 2nd in the region and 32nd globally, has visa-free access to 134 countries.Over the past 10 years, the UAE has climbed an impressive 28 places on the index. The UAE passport, ranked 33rd in the 2018 edition and offers visa-free travel to 133 countries – up from 121 countries in 2017.Countries in Southeast Asia have remained stable. Offering visa-free travel to 176 countries, and ranked second globally, Singapore remains the best-performing country in the region, achieving its highest ranking on the index in 10 years.Malaysia ranks second in the region, and 12th globally, with Malaysian nationals enjoying visa-free access to 166 countries. Indonesia moved up the ranking by seven places and is now ranked 72nd globally, having signed visa agreements with countries such as Qatar and St. Kitts and Nevis in 2017. North Asian countries performed well on the 2018 Henley Passport Index, with both Japan and South Korea retaining their positions in the top 10. With visa-free access to 175 countries, the Japanese passport moved up two places to rank third globally. South Korea also moved up by two places to occupy fifth place, offering its citizens visa-free access to 173 countries.

Investment migration is the most direct route to improved mobility

More governments than ever before are embracing residence- and citizenship-by-investment programs as a means of stimulating economic development and growth, and an increased number of wealthy and talented individuals are looking to diversify their citizenship portfolios to give themselves and their families greater international opportunity, travel freedom, stability, and security.Dr. Kälin points out that the countries that offer the most credible citizenship-by-investment programs in the world consistently perform strongly on the Henley Passport IndexDr Kalin continued, “Malta, for example, offers the top-ranked investment migration program globally, and the country also scores very highly on the index, holding the world’s ninth most powerful passport and offering visa-free access to 169 countries.”Austria also makes it into the top 10, with access to a total of 174 countries. Cyprus is not far behind in 17th place, with 159 countries accessible visa-free.”“Alternative citizenship represents the most direct route to global mobility, connectivity, and access.“Individuals who have multiple passports benefit from each country’s best practices and are less vulnerable to its risks and shortcomings.“The Henley Passport Index is relevant to anyone seeking to strengthen their level of access as well as to governments trying to understand their passport power in a global context.”
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