Travel TrendsMove over, UK and US. Balance of passport power now tilts towards APAC as region pushes ahead in pandemic recovery.

Global passport order shifts from west to east

While most have gone done the ranks, UAE stood out as it continued up the Henley Passport Index at the 16th spot with visa-free access to 173 countries.
While most have gone done the ranks, UAE stood out as it continued up the Henley Passport Index at the 16th spot with visa-free access to 173 countries. Photo Credit: Getty Images/structuresxx

A new passport order is emerging, with the top rankings dominated by Asia Pacific as the region looks set to emerge first from the pandemic.

According to the latest results from the 2021 Henley Passport Index, Japan continues to hold the number one spot — if temporary restrictions are not taken in account — for the third consecutive year as its passport holders able to freely access 191 destinations visa-free.

Singapore's red passport is still number two, giving access to 190 destinations, while South Korean holds the third spot alongside Germany with visa-free access to 189 destinations. New Zealand is on the seventh spot with visa-free access to 185 destinations, while Australia comes in eighth with visa-free access to 184 destinations.

Across the Henley Passport Index's 16-year history, the top spots have been traditionally held by destinations in the west. But Covid-19 has caused a dramatic upset to the world's most powerful passports in the wake of the pandemic, as border lockdowns continue to shake the global mobility hierarchy that has shaped the travel landscape in the last few decades.

These are based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), where in particular, the US has fallen from the first to seventh spot over the past seven years, a position it currently shares with the UK. A national lockdown has also since been declared in England starting 19 December after a new strain of the coronavirus was found.

"Due to pandemic-related travel constraints, travellers from both countries currently face major restrictions from over 105 countries, with US passport holders able to travel to fewer than 75 destinations, while UK passport holders currently have access to fewer than 70," said Dr Christian Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept.

And while most have gone done the ranks, since few high-profile visa agreements were inked in 2020, UAE stood out as it continued up the Henley Passport Index thanks to a landmark US-brokered agreement, establishing formal ties with Israel and granting citizens of each country visa-free access to the other. This brought the UAE up to the 16th spot with visa-free access to 173 countries, compared to its 62nd ranking back in 2006.

While the first Covid-19 vaccines are now approved and currently being administered to select persons, it’s bound to be a long while before inoculations are available to the masses — which means future global mobility remains uncertain. As well, nationality alone will no longer suffice to guarantee safe passage.

"Even for still-powerful passports, additional protocols will be required to re-attain relatively frictionless mobility. Today's youth are socially conscious, environmentally aware, and less nationalistic — all of which makes them potentially the most mobile generation in human history. They herald a seminal shift in mobility from being every country for itself to being every person for themselves," said Dr Parag Khanna, founder of FutureMap.

Also in the 2021 Q1 Global Mobility Report included by Henley & Partners, is how global immobility is no longer solely the plight of citizens of less advanced countries, since Covid has introduced new factors such as risk management, health readiness, monitoring and detection.

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