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Asia Pacific Reigns in 2021 Henley Passport Index as Region Looks Set to Emerge First from Pandemic

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 transformed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Without taking temporary restrictions into account, Japan continues to hold the number one position, with passport holders able to access 191 destinations visa-free. This marks the third consecutive year that Japan has held the top spot. Asia Pacific (APAC) dominance of the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — now seems firmly established. Singapore sits in 2nd position, with access to 190 destinations, and South Korea holds onto 3rd place alongside Germany, with both having a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 189. Slightly further down but still in the top 10, New Zealand is in 7th position, with visa-free access to 185 destinations, while Australia is in 8th position, with access to 184 destinations.

Over the index’s 16-year history, the top spots were traditionally held by EU countries, the UK, or the US, and experts suggest the APAC region’s position of strength will continue as it includes the first countries to begin the process of pandemic recovery.

Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, says with the US and the UK still facing significant challenges related to the virus, the balance of power is shifting. “Over the past seven years, the US passport has fallen from the number one spot to 7th place, a position it currently shares with the UK. Due to pandemic-related travel constraints, travelers 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.”

With the first Covid-19 vaccine approved just over a month ago, airline industry experts believe that mandatory vaccination before air travel may soon be a necessity. A technological innovation scheduled to launch in Q1 2021 that will contribute to restoring global mobility is IATA’s Travel Pass initiative — a mobile application that enables travelers to store and manage their verified certifications for Covid-19 tests or vaccines.

Experts suggest that in terms of future global mobility, we cannot expect a return to pre-pandemic patterns. Dr. Parag Khanna, Founder of FutureMap, says 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 themself.”

Further key insights and expert analysis are contained in the 2021 Q1 Global Mobility Report released by Henley & Partners today. It includes new research by Deep Knowledge Group, overlaying data from the Covid-19 Risk and Safety Assessment of the economic, social, and health stability of 250 countries and regions with the latest Henley Passport Index results. What emerges is that for developed and developing nations alike, travel freedom is not only the result of a lack of social freedom or poor economic development but also a failure of risk management, health readiness, and monitoring and detection. In other words, global immobility is no longer solely the plight of citizens of less advanced countries.

Perhaps understandably, there were relatively few high-profile visa agreements during 2020. The notable exception was the UAE, which has continued its remarkable upward trajectory on the Henley Passport Index. The country signed a landmark US-brokered agreement establishing formal ties with Israel and granting citizens of each country visa-free access to the other. The UAE now has a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 173 and holds 16th spot on the ranking. This is a stunning ascent when compared to the position it held at the index’s inception in 2006, when the country ranked 62nd, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of just 35.

Henley & Partners’ CEO Dr. Juerg Steffen says the volatility driven by Covid-19 has pushed the growing appeal of investment migration into overdrive. “The unprecedented events of 2020 have simultaneously exacerbated push factors such as political and economic instability, and reprioritized pull factors, with stability, safety, and access to quality education and healthcare becoming issues of greater concern than ever before. Alternative citizenship and residency are now a standard consideration for international families and entrepreneurs who are looking to hedge volatility and create long-term value through enhanced global mobility.”

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