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January 6, 2021

The first Passport Index of 2021 confirms global mobility strength of CBI Countries

When it comes to freedom of movement, the just-released Henley Passport Index Q1 2021 reveals that while Asia Pacific passports deliver the greatest global mobility, the countries offering citizenship by investment programmes continue to maintain and even increase their freedom of movement footprint with four CBI countries ranked in the top 10 most powerful passports.

As 2021 commences, the latest results from the Henley Passport Index — the original ranking of all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa — provide fascinating insights into the future of travel freedom in a world that has been transformed by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The top spots in passport rankings have traditionally been held by EU countries, and while this remains the cases in a few instances (Portugal 6th, Austria 5th), the balance of passport power has been shifting for some time with the pandemic exacerbating such shifts and many APAC (Asia Pacific region) countries have now ascended the passport ranks.

Without taking temporary restrictions into account, Asia Pacific (APAC) countries Japan, Singapore and South Korea are ranked the top three countries for global mobility, their passports offering visa-free access to 191, 190 and 189 destinations, respectively; while New Zealand and Australia (also part of the Asia Pacific region) take 7th and 8th position, accessing 185 and 184 countries.

According to leading residency and citizenship advisory firm Henley & Partners, which has been publishing the Henley Passport Index quarterly for the last 16 years (based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association IATA) over the past seven years, the US passport has fallen from the number one spot to 7th place, which it now shares with the UK. And due to pandemic-related travel constraints, travellers from the UK and the US 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.

Dr Christian H. Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, explains that “just a year ago all indications were that the rates of global mobility would continue to rise, that travel freedom would increase, and that holders of powerful passports would enjoy more access than ever before”. However, the global lockdown negated these glowing projections “and as restrictions begin to lift, the results from the latest index are a reminder of what passport power really means in a world upended by the pandemic”.

CBI countries ascending rankings

However, many of the countries offering citizenship and residency by investment programmes have seen their passports either maintain or increase their passport power, with the latest Henley Passport Index 2021 reporting four CBI countries in the top 10 rankings of most powerful passports – Austria 5th, Portugal 6th, Malta 8th, Greece 8th – and the CBI Caribbean countries all within the top 35th ranking and all gradually ascending.

In fact, over the course of the pandemic and since the Passport Index just before the pandemic outbreak (Passport Index 2020 Q1), many of the CBI countries have moved up the rankings. A part of the Asia Pacific region, Vanuatu, which has been running its successful CBI Programme since 2017, has moved up two places in the rankings (from 42nd to 40th) giving Vanuatuan passport holders visa-free access to 130 countries. In the Caribbean, both Grenada and Saint Kitts have moved up two places in the rankings too (33rd and 25th, respectively) allowing visa-free access to 144 and 156 destinations, respectively. Meanwhile, Saint Lucia and Antigua & Barbuda have both moved up one place, with Saint Lucia 32nd (146 countries) and Antigua 29th (151 countries).

In Europe, CBI country Austria has upped its position two places, from 7th to 5th, now giving visa-free access to 187 countries, while Portugal, Malta, Bulgaria and Montenegro have all moved up one place to 6th, 8th, 17th and 44th, respectively.

CBI country Turkey, however has made the greatest jump upwards, four places from 55th in January 2020 to 51st a year later, allowing access to 111 countries.

Experts suggest that in terms of future global mobility, we cannot expect a return to pre-pandemic patterns, Dr Parag Khanna, bestselling author (The Future Is Asian) and the Founder and Managing Partner of FutureMap in Singapore says that the system will not simply revert to what it was, and that nationality alone will no longer suffice to guarantee safe passage.

“Even for still-powerful passports such as Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and members of the EU, additional protocols will be required to re-attain relatively frictionless mobility.”

Looking further ahead, Khanna suggests that demographic shifts are likely to usher in far more dramatic changes: “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.”

Henley & Partners suggest that while the pandemic may have temporarily restricted transnational movement, the urge to move and migrate remains, with people turning to creative solutions to protect their global privileges in the post-COVID era.

Commenting on the growing trend towards the acquisition of second citizenships and passports, aka the pandemic passport, Professor Peter J. Spiro, Charles Weiner Professor of Law at Temple University Law School, says that the pandemic “proved the first major blow to the post-globalisation system of mobility”, and that this will “ultimately accelerate pre-existing trends towards citizenship acquisition as transnational elites look to insure against future shock events”.

Therefore, the appeal of investment migration remains constant, with countries offering residence and citizenship programs continuing to fare extremely well on the index. Henley & Partners’ CEO Dr Juerg Steffen says that the volatility driven by COVID-19 has pushed the steadily growing appeal of investment migration into overdrive.

“More than being associated with simple ease of travel or acquiring a vacation home, alternative residence and citizenship are now also perceived in terms of their remarkable potential for portfolio diversification, access to global investment and operations, and the creation of a new inheritance and identity for the family,” explains Juerg.

“The unexpected and unprecedented events of 2020 have simultaneously exacerbated push factors such as political and economic instability, and reprioritised pull factors, with stability, safety, and access to quality education and healthcare becoming issues of greater concern than ever before. Investment migration is now a standard consideration for international families and entrepreneurs who are looking to hedge volatility and create long-term value through enhanced global mobility.”

Why do I need a second passport?

Investment in a second passport is a good insurance policy should hardships arise, offering a safe haven and security for you and your family. And, as it brings citizenship for life, be that immediate or via residency leading to citizenship, it can guarantee a safeguarded future for generations to come.

With visa-free access to hundreds of countries, a second passport can expand your horizons, both personally and professionally, opening you up to lucrative markets in the EU, Middle East, Asia and South America, among others, and giving you the opportunity to invest new markets. This can both help you grow your business and manage your wealth.

Dual citizenship can help you in both managing and preserving your wealth, offering advantageous tax policies and helping you to shield your assets. A second passport gives you the benefits that come with a living in another country, offering you a better quality of life, be it world-class healthcare and outstanding educational institutions or access to cultural variety and luxurious services.