A New Global Mobility Hierarchy Emerges as International Travel Resumes

Coronavirus-related travel restrictions are beginning to lift in some countries after more than six months of panic and uncertainty. The resumption of international cross-border travel may appear to be a signal that things are slowly returning to normal, but as the latest research from the Henley Passport Index — based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — shows, the pandemic has completely upended the seemingly unshakeable hierarchy of global mobility that has dominated the last few decades, with more change still to come.

At the beginning of the year, for instance, 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 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 centers notably excluded. As criticism of the country’s pandemic response continues  to mount, and with the US presidential election just weeks away, the precipitous 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 significant changes in the once-solid global mobility hierarchy paint an equally vivid picture of the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, the Singapore passport was ranked 2nd globally, with passport holders able to access an unprecedented 190 destinations. However, under the current travel restrictions, Singaporeans can travel to fewer than 80 destinations around the world.

Unsurprisingly, those countries whose coronavirus responses have been criticized for being inadequate have taken the greatest knock when it comes to the travel freedom of their citizens. Brazilian passport holders were able to access 170 destinations without acquiring a visa in advance in January. Currently, approximately only 70 destinations are accessible. The decline in mobility and passport power for countries such as India and Russia have been less dramatic, but nevertheless indicative of an overall shift. Russian citizens had access to 119 destinations prior to the Covid-19 outbreak but can currently travel to fewer than 50. At the beginning of the year, Indian passport holders could travel to 61 destinations without a visa but due to virus-related restrictions, they currently have access to fewer than 30.

Without taking the various pandemic-related travel bans and restrictions into account, Japan continues to hold the number one spot on the Henley Passport Index, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 191. Singapore remains in 2nd place, with a score of 190, while Germany and South Korea are tied 3rd, each with a score of 189. EU member states continue to perform best overall, with countries from the bloc taking up most of the spots in the index’s top 10.

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