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October 20, 2020

As international travel resumes following the pandemic, but with Covid restrictions still in place, a new global mobility hierarchy has emerged, according to the just-released Passport Index 2020 Q4 edition. While some of the world’s most powerful passports like the US have lost their shine, others have gained global mobility ground.

As coronavirus-related travel restrictions begin to lift, the latest research from the Henley & Partners latest Passport Index ­­— based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) ­­— shows that the pandemic has completely upended the once seemingly unshakeable global mobility hierarchy that has dominated the last few decades, with more change still to come.

US passport loses shine
Take the once so powerful US passport. At the beginning of the year, the US passport was ranked in 6th position on 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 ­— and Americans could travel hassle-free (visa-free or visa-on-arrival) to 185 destinations around the world.

Since then, that number has dropped dramatically by over 100, with US passport holders currently able to access fewer than 75 destinations, with the most popular tourist and business centres notably excluded.

It’s not surprising. As criticism of the country’s pandemic response continues to mount, and with the US presidential election just weeks away, the decline of US passport power and American travel freedom is seen as a clear indication of its altered status in the eyes of the international community.

Other powerful passport declines
Other significant changes in the global mobility hierarchy paint an equally clear picture of the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Henley & Partners, at the beginning of 2020, the Singapore passport was ranked 2nd globally, with passport holders able to access 190 destinations globally. However, under the current travel restrictions, Singaporeans can travel to fewer than 80 destinations around the world. Brazilian passport holders were able to access 170 destinations, but currently only 70 are accessible.

The decline in mobility and passport power for countries such as India and Russia have been less dramatic, but are still indicative of an overall shift. Russian citizens had access to 119 destinations prior to the pandemic, but can currently travel to fewer than 50, while Indian passport holders could travel to 61 destinations without a visa pre-pandemic, but now have access to fewer than 30.

Dr Christian H. Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and inventor of the passport index concept, says travel freedom is something citizens of wealthy democratic countries such the UK, the US, and Western European nations have taken for granted for decades and that “the pandemic has abruptly changed this”.

He explains: “There’s been a shift away from travel freedom being regarded as the prerogative of nationals with once-powerful passports, towards a realisation that it is now a necessary luxury for those wishing to access first-class education, business opportunities, and quality healthcare for themselves and their families.”

Rise of the pandemic passport
This has led to the rise of the pandemic passport, with citizens of countries with once such powerful passports, such as the US, or those whose mobility has declined due to Covid, such as Indians, seeking out an alternative (or second) citizenship via Citizenship by Investment or Residency by Investment programmes.

In fact, in the first six months of 2020, Henley & Partners notes a dramatic 100% increase in enquiries from US citizens (compared to the same period in 2019), while Indian nationals outstripped all other nationalities, with Henley & Partners receiving 96.5% more enquiries from Indian nationals than the second-placed Nigerians.

CEO of Henley & Partners, Dr Juerg Steffen, says there is no question that the volatility of 2020 has boosted the appeal.

“We’ve seen unprecedented interest from citizens of developed economies, particularly Americans with a startling 238% increase in enquiries from between January and October compared to the same period in 2019. Alternative residence or citizenship is increasingly seen as an indispensable asset and a vital hedge against ongoing volatility.”

Boost to passports of CBI Programme countries
Of the countries that do offer Citizenship by Investment and Residency by Investment programmes, the global mobility shift as demonstrated by the latest Passport Index (Q4 2020), has been mainly a positive one with quite a number of countries boosting the power of their passports.

In the CBI countries, such as the Caribbean islands and south pacific island Vanuatu, where the pandemic has hardly hit (while Saint Lucia has witnessed no deaths from Covid, Vanuatu hasn’t even had any reported cases), its passports have moved up the rankings from Q1 2020.

Saint Kitts & Nevis, which remains the strongest passport of the Caribbean CBI countries, has moved up two places, to 25th most powerful worldwide, with access to more countries (now 156 countries). Saint Lucia has climbed one place to 32nd with access to 146 countries, while Grenada and Dominica have both improved their passport power by two places (33rd and 35th, respectively). Vanuatu has also moved up the ranks, from 42nd worldwide to 40th, though still maintains access to 130 countries.

In Europe, the CBI Programme-bearing countries, many of which are small, and have managed the pandemic well, have also had a boost to their passports, according to the latest edition.

Once both joint 7th in the world, Austria and Portugal have now moved to an incredible 5th and 6th place, respectively, upping their number of countries to 187 and 185, while Malta moves now comes in as 8th in the world (up one place), offering access to 184 countries. Bulgaria is now 17th worldwide, up one, and Montenegro now 44th, up two, the latter accessing 124 countries.

Download the Henley Passport Index Report: Q4 2020 Edition