Pandemic Continues to Erode Strength of Premium Passports

As the world scrambles to recover from the effects of the global health emergency, urgent questions around international travel remain: Is a return to pre-pandemic levels possible? How will it be achieved? And who will be left behind? The latest results and research 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 — show that while there is cause for optimism, it must be tempered with the reality that cross-border travel continues to be significantly obstructed. Although some progress has been made, between January to March 2021, international mobility had been restored to just 12% of pre-pandemic levels in the same period in 2019, and the gulf between theoretical and actual travel access offered by even high-ranking passports remains significant.

With the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics just weeks away, and the country in a ‘quasi’ state of emergency, Japan nonetheless retains its hold on the number one spot on the Henley Passport Index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — with a theoretical visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 193.

While the dominance of European passports in the Top Ten has been a given for most of the index’s 16-year history, the pre-eminence of three Asian states — Japan, Singapore, and South Korea — has become the new normal. Singapore remains in 2nd place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 192, and South Korea continues to share joint-3rd place with Germany, each with a score of 191.

However, when compared to the actual travel access currently available even to the holders of top-scoring passports, the picture looks very different: holders of Japanese passports have access to fewer than 80 destinations (equivalent to the passport power of Saudi Arabia, which sits way down in 71st place in the ranking) while holders of Singaporean passports can access fewer than 75 destinations (equivalent to the passport power of Kazakhstan, which sits in 74th place).

Henley & Partners’ Global Mobility Report 2021 Q3 is a unique publication that brings together commentary from leading academics and professional experts on the major and emerging trends in global and regional mobility today.

Grounded in geopolitical analysis and with a focus on the realities shaping our world — return migration and the revival of cities, to vaccine passports and futureproofing via citizenship diversification, and tech innovations to boost global travel — the report offers exclusive insight into mobility and migration patterns and looks at what we can expect in the months to come.

Exclusive research and analysis commissioned by Henley & Partners indicate that while advancements have been made to restore international mobility levels to pre-pandemic levels, progress has been slow and is primarily limited to business or emergency travel. Commenting in Henley & Partners’ Global Mobility Report 2021 Q3, political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh, respectively, state that “there was a 97% drop in international travel in April 2020 compared to April 2019, pre-Covid. Between January and March 2021, this had improved marginally to 88%, with business and essential travel the primary drivers of the recovery of just 12% of previous global mobility”.

Read the Henley Passport Index press release here.

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