The Covid-19 pandemic has altered the power of the world's top passports, with travel freedom of once-prestigious passports like the US taking a dramatic beating, according to citizenship and residency advisory firm Henley & Partners.
A significant factor at play is the current travel bans in place amid the global health pandemic. For instance, the European Union has from July 1 reopened its borders to countries including Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea – traditional high scorers on the Henley Passport Index – but the United States, Brazil and Russia were notably excluded from the welcome list.
Although not reflected in the latest Henley Passport Index, which does not take temporary travel bans into account, travel freedom for the holders of once-prestigious passports has drastically changed.
The US passport usually ranks in the top 10, with its citizens able to access 185 destinations without a visa. However, under the current EU ban, Americans have roughly the same level of travel freedom as citizens of Uruguay and Mexico (ranked 28th and 25th respectively).
Russian citizens – whose passport usually ranks ahead of countries such as Georgia and Albania (both included on the EU's list) – have seen their passport strength reduced to one of the weakest in the region. And Brazilian passport holders – most recently placed 19th on the index – currently have roughly the same travel freedom as citizens of Paraguay in 36th position.
Without taking the current travel bans into account, Japan continues to hold the number one spot on the Henley Passport Index with a score of 191. Singapore remains in second place, while Germany and South Korea are in joint third place.
Singapore, however, has been excluded from the EU list so its citizens currently have far less travel freedom than their closest competitors on the index, which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association.
Dr. Christian Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, says this latest decision by the EU indicates there's more upheaval to come.
"Look at the US passport, for example – in 2014, it held the number one spot in the world on our index, but US nationals currently have far less travel freedom than most citizens of wealthy, industrialised nations and even of some less developed nations, being effectively locked out of Europe.
"In the coming months, we will see an emergence of a new global hierarchy in terms of mobility, with countries who have effectively managed the pandemic taking the lead, while countries who have handled it poorly falling behind."
Experts suggest that the Covid-19 crisis is likely to make international mobility more restricted and unpredictable in the longer term.
"Even as countries open their borders, it is expected that numerous governments will use epidemiological concerns as a justification for imposing new immigration restrictions and nationality-targeted travel bans that will mainly be aimed at citizens of developing countries," says Prof. Dr. Yossi Harpaz, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Tel Aviv University.