(CNN) — There's a widening gap between the global north and the global south when it comes to travel freedoms, says the first 2022 report by London-based global citizenship and residence advisory firm Henley & Partners.
The firm's Henley Passport Index, based on exclusive data provided by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has been regularly monitoring the world's most travel-friendly passports since 2006.
It says that increasing travel barriers that have been introduced over the course of the Covid pandemic have resulted in the widest global mobility gap in the index's 16-year history.
The index doesn't take temporary restrictions into account, so leaving actual current travel access aside, holders of the passports at the top of its ranking -- Japan and Singapore -- are able, in theory, to travel visa-free to 192 destinations.
That's 166 more destinations than Afghan nationals, who sit at the bottom of the index of 199 passports, and can access just 26 countries without requiring a visa in advance.
Further down the top 10, the rankings remains virtually unchanged as we enter the first quarter of 2022. South Korea is tied with Germany in second place (with a score of 190) and Finland, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain are all together in third place (with a score of 189).
EU countries dominate the top of the list as usual, with France, Netherlands and Sweden climbing one spot to join Austria and Denmark in fourth place (with a score of 188). Ireland and Portugal are in fifth place (with a score of 187).
The United States and the United Kingdom, which held the top spot together back in 2014, have regained a little ground. They've risen one ranking to No.6, alongside four other nations with a history of isolationism or neutrality: Switzerland, Norway, Belgium and New Zealand.
At No.7 we have Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Greece and Malta. Eastern European countries make up the rest of the top 10. Hungary and Poland have risen to eighth place, Lithuania and Slovakia have climbed to No. 9, and Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia are in tenth position.
Germany has the highest-ranking European passport.
Alex Grimm/Getty Images
Positive inward migration
The latest report notes that the appearance late last year of the Omicron variant shone a light on a growing divide in international mobility between wealthier countries and poor ones, pointing towards the tough restrictions introduced against mainly African nations that U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described as being akin to "travel apartheid."
Pandemic aside, overall travel freedom levels have hugely expanded over the past couple of decades. The Henley Passport Index found in 2006 that, an individual could, on average, visit 57 countries without needing to acquire a visa in advance. Today, that number is 107 -- almost double.
However, these new freedoms are primarily enjoyed by Europe, North America and richer Asian nations -- passports holders from nations such as Angola, Cameroon and Laos are able to enter only about 50.
Christian H. Kaelin, chair of Henley & Partners and creator of the passport index concept, says opening up migration channels will be crucial for post-pandemic recovery. "Passports and visas are among the most important instruments impacting on social inequality worldwide as they determine opportunities for global mobility," he says. "The borders within which we happen to be born, and the documents we are entitled to hold, are no less arbitrary than our skin color. Wealthier states need to encourage positive inward migration in an effort to help redistribute and rebalance human and material resources worldwide."
The best passports to hold in 2022 are:
1. Japan, Singapore (192 destinations)
2. Germany, South Korea (190)
3. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain (189)
4. Austria, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Sweden (188)
5. Ireland, Portugal (187)
6. Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States (186)
7. Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Greece, Malta (185)
8. Poland, Hungary (183)
9. Lithuania, Slovakia (182)
10. Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia (181)
The worst passports to hold
Several countries around the world have visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to fewer than 40 countries. These include:
104. North Korea (39 destinations)
105. Nepal and Palestinian territories (37)
106. Somalia (34)
107. Yemen (33)
108. Pakistan (31)
109. Syria (29)
110. Iraq (28)
111. Afghanistan (26)
Henley & Partner's list is one of several indexes created by financial firms to rank global passports according to the access they provide to their citizens.
The Henley Passport Index ranks 199 passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa. It is updated in real time throughout the year, as and when visa policy changes come into effect.
Arton Capital's Passport Index takes into consideration the passports of 193 United Nations member countries and six territories -- ROC Taiwan, Macau (SAR China), Hong Kong (SAR China), Kosovo, Palestinian Territory and the Vatican. Territories annexed to other countries are excluded.
Its 2022 index has the United Arab Emirates in in the top spot, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 160.