LONDON, July 18, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Japan has been knocked off the top spot on the Henley Passport Index for the first time in five years and bumped into 3rd place, according to the latest ranking, which is based on exclusive and official data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Singapore is now officially the most powerful passport in the world, with its citizens able to visit 192 destinations out of 227 around the world visa-free. Germany, Italy, and Spain all move up into 2nd place with visa-free access to 190 destinations, and Japanese passport holders join those of six other nations — Austria, Finland, France, Luxembourg, South Korea, and Sweden — in 3rd place with access to 189 destinations without a prior visa.
The UK appears to have finally turned the corner after a six-year decline, jumping up two places on the latest ranking to 4th place — a position it last held in 2017. The US, on the other hand, continues its now decade-long slide down the index, plummeting a further two places to 8th spot with access to just 184 destinations visa-free. Both the UK and the US jointly held 1st place on the index nearly 10 years ago in 2014, but have been on a downward trajectory ever since. Afghanistan remains entrenched at the bottom of the Henley Passport Index, with a visa-free access score of just 27, followed by Iraq (score of 29), and Syria (score of 30) — the three weakest passports in the world.
The general trend over the history of the 18-year-old ranking has been towards greater travel freedom, with the average number of destinations travelers are able to access visa-free nearly doubling from 58 in 2006 to 109 in 2023. However, the global mobility gap between those at the top and bottom of the index is now wider than it has ever been, with top-ranked Singapore able to access 165 more destinations visa-free than Afghanistan.
Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners, says only eight countries worldwide have less visa-free access today than they did a decade ago, while others have been more successful in securing greater travel freedom for their citizens. “The UAE has added an impressive 107 destinations to its visa-free score since 2013, resulting in a massive leap of 44 places in the ranking over the past 10 years from 56th to 12th position. Of the countries sitting in the Top 10, the US has seen the smallest increase in its score, securing just 12 additional destinations. Singapore, by comparison, has increased its score by 25, pushing it up five places over the past 10 years to number one.”
Commenting in the Henley Global Mobility Report 2023 Q3, released today alongside the latest index, Greg Lindsay from Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Institute, says that from a purely mechanical perspective, “the story is a simple one — by more or less standing still, the US has fallen behind. While its absolute score has in fact risen over the last decade, the US has been steadily overtaken by rivals such as South Korea, Japan, and Singapore. America’s relentless slide down the rankings is a warning to its neighbor Canada and the rest of the Anglosphere as well.”
The links between visa-free access and openness
Henley & Partners has conducted exclusive new research into the relationship between a country’s openness to foreigners — how many nations it allows to cross its borders visa-free — and its own citizens’ travel freedom. The new Henley Openness Index ranks all 199 countries worldwide according to the number of nationalities they permit entry to without a prior visa.
The Top 20 ‘most open’ countries are all small island nations or African states, except for Cambodia. There are 12 countries that are completely open to all passports and four that don’t allow anyone in visa-free. While the correlation between a high openness score and high visa-free access score is not straightforward, it is notable that Singapore and South Korea — high climbers on the Henley Passport Index Top 10 over last decade, moving up from 6th and 7th respectively in 2013 to 1st and 3rd today — boast relatively high degrees of openness compared to the 5 countries with the biggest disparity between the travel freedom they enjoy, versus the visa-free access they provide to other nationalities. US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have all either slid down the ranking or remained in the same place as their openness stagnates.
Prof. Peter J. Spiro, who holds the Charles Weiner Chair in international law at Temple University, says America’s extension of visa-free access is low, even by the standard of developed economies. “EU states grant visa-free privileges to more than twice the number of states than does the US. Processing delays, high refusal rates, and a reputation for disagreeable customer service are tarnishing the attractiveness of the US as a destination. Add to that the growing reputation of the US as ridden with gun violence and one can project a long-term trajectory in which US global standing further erodes.”
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