Japan passport strongest, India ranks 76th
June 3 (TravelAndy): Japan has consolidated its spot at the top of the Henley Passport Index, now offering its citizens visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to a record total of 189 destinations. Following closely behind Japan are Singapore and Germany in joint 2nd place, with 188 destinations accessible without a prior visa. 3rd place is shared by six countries: one Asian (South Korea) and the rest European (Finland, France, Italy, Spain, and Sweden).
India is ranked 76th with visa-free access to 59 countries.
While Schengen Area countries have traditionally topped the index as a result of their open access to Europe, developed Asian nations have been able to secure equally high scores in recent years thanks to their strong international trade and diplomatic relations. With close to 40 visa-waiver agreements signed by governments since the start of the year, passport-holders around the world go into the summer season with greater collective access than ever before.
Boosting this trend, Russia — which is usually off-limits to nationals of most countries — announced in April that visas would be waived for all travelers holding tickets to the June–July FIFA World Cup. Nonetheless, the country has fallen from 45th to 47th position on the Henley Passport Index compared to Q1, thus far unable to catch up to regional leaders Ukraine and Moldova, both of which have signed a number of visa agreements since the start of the year.
The UAE, in 23rd place, remains the fastest overall climber on the index, ascending 38 places since 2008. The country has secured more new visa-waivers for its citizens in 2018 than any other jurisdiction in the world and is quickly closing in on the lead that Israel, in 19th place, has historically held within the Middle East region. The US and the UK are tied in 4th place, along with Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Portugal; the US has climbed one place compared to Q1 while the UK has remained stable.
Having gained access to the UAE, Oman, and Bosnia and Herzegovina this year, China has significantly strengthened its position on the ranking, climbing from 74th to 68th position since Q1 — although the country’s relatively low score of 70 visa-free or visa-on-arrival destinations means that it still cannot compete with North Asian high-performers Japan and South Korea.
The Henley Passport Index, which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has recently been updated through extensive research to include eight new travel destinations. According to Dr. Christian H. Kälin, Group Chairman of Henley & Partners, “this addition means that the index now encompasses almost all of the world’s destinations for which travel information is publicly available, making it the most robust index of its kind. The Henley Passport Index surveys a total of 199 different passports against 227 different travel destinations, including countries, territories, and micro-states. The index is innovating the way we map and measure travel freedom, making it easier for individuals to understand where exactly they lie on the spectrum of global mobility.”
The UAE races to the top as the Middle East region places tourism firmly on the agenda.
Leading global efforts towards improved travel freedom is the UAE, which has gained access to eight new countries in 2018 alone: China, Ireland, Burkina Faso, Uruguay, Guinea, Tonga, Benin, and Honduras. The country’s reciprocal agreement with China in particular has led to the Emirati hospitality and tourist industries reporting growth of up to 70% compared to 2017, as Chinese travelers begin taking advantage of their newfound access to the Middle East’s main hub. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said recently that the country is actively strengthening its diplomatic efforts in a bid to have one of the top five passports in the world, as per the country’s Vision 2021.
Brexit and travel bans remain the exception as borders open in Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Caribbean
So far, 2018 has seen little to no activity in the European and North American visa-policy space, although American and British foreign policy continues to dominate headlines. By contrast, dozens of new immigration and border policies have been legislated by countries in Asia and the former Soviet Union in recent months, as well as in Africa and the Caribbean. Following the general pro-tourism trend emerging in the Middle East, governments in other regions are seeking to boost visitor inflows as a means of stimulating economic growth, strengthening diplomatic ties, and improving travel prospects for their own citizens.
Ukraine, too, has substantially relaxed its immigration policies over the years, introducing visa exemptions, visas-on-arrival, and, as of April 2018, e-Visas for almost every nationality in the world. Much like the UAE, the country has experienced a critical boost to trade and tourism since it opened its borders to Chinese nationals in particular, reporting a 200% increase in Chinese visitors since the policy came into effect in 2015. Ukraine has also been the beneficiary of a number of new visa-waiver agreements this year, solidifying the gains it made in 2017 when it gained access to the entire Schengen Area.
China is gradually reciprocating the warm welcome it has received on the global stage. On 1 May, the government announced that citizens of 59 countries could travel to its popular Hainan province visa-free for a month — an unprecedented move for the traditionally closed-off nation.