Asian countries top powerful passports list as US and UK decline

Japan and Singapore hold onto top spot on the Henley Passport Index of powerful passports in the 3rd quarter with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 189. They unseated Germany from its long-held 1st position at the beginning of 2018.

Falling from the top spot it shared last quarter, South Korea now sits in 2nd place along with Finland and Germany, accessing 187 destinations without a prior visa. Finland’s ascent is due to recent changes to Pakistan’s formerly highly restrictive visa policy. In the hope of attracting tourists and boosting its struggling economy, Pakistan now offers an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) to 50 countries, notably excluding the UK or the US. With a score of 183, the UK and the US now share 6th place – the lowest position either country has held since 2010, and a significant drop from their 1st place ranking in 2014.

DenmarkItaly, and Luxembourg share 3rd place in powerful passports list, while France, Spain, and Sweden sit in joint 4th place. In significant shifts elsewhere, the United Arab Emirates has entered the top 20 for the first time in the index’s 14-year history, more than doubling its number of visa-free destinations over the past five years. Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the global mobility spectrum, with access to just 25 destinations worldwide.  

The link between visa openness and progressive reform

Political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli, of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh respectively, have found a link between visa-openness and progressive reform. They say “the prospect of visa-waiver agreements with the EU has encouraged neighboring countries to adopt important reforms in areas such as civil and political rights, rule of law, and security,” and they note that freedom of movement appears to be a vital pre-condition not only for economic growth, but also for social integration and progressive political change.

With nationalism on the rise, and global powerhouses like the UK and the US embracing policies that limit freedom of movement, this new research indicates that associated impacts on political rights, rule of law, security and democracy could be profound.

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