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The closure of airspace due to Russia’s military aggression and the opening of borders to Ukrainian refugees has begun to exert influence on global travel freedoms, according to the latest data complied on the world’s most travel-friendly passports.
While there’s been little change at the at the top of a list of countries with so-called powerful passports – meaning those with the most visa-free travel options around the world – the recent conflict is starting to shake things up lower down the index compiled by London-based global citizenship and residence advisory firm Henley & Partners.
Since the outbreak of war at the end of February, many countries have either amended their entry policies or dropped visa requirements for Ukrainian passport holders completely, meaning Ukraine has risen to a record high on the report.
Meanwhile, the European Union, United States and Canada have all banned Russian operators from their airspace, while some destinations are no longer issuing visas to Russian citizens, “effectively condemning the Russian passport to junk status throughout much of the developed world,” a report by Henley & Partners says.
Although this haven’t dramatically impacted Russia’s standing on the list as yet, the report suggests this is likely to change in the coming months.
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.
In the list for the second quarter of 2022, Ukraine has risen one place and is now ranked 34th on the index and its nationals can now travel to 143 destinations visa-free (or visa-on-arrival). Russia has dropped four places to 49th, with open travel to 117 countries – a position expected to worsen as visa suspensions and sanctions are formalized.
The latest shake up clearly indicates “the war’s profound and perhaps irreversible impact on freedom of movement,” according to the report.
The top of the index remains the same as before, with Japan and Singapore sharing the number one spot. Holders of these passports are able to travel to 192 destinations visa-free in theory, but it’s worth noting that this does not take temporary restrictions into account.
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 final quarter of 2021. South Korea is tied with Germany in second place (with a score of 190) and Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain are all together in third place (with a score of 189).
While Austria, Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden share fourth place, with a score of 188, France has slipped down to fifth place.
The UK, which dropped all remaining Covid-19 related restrictions last month, has moved up one place to number five, sitting alongside France, as well as Ireland and Portugal, with a score of 117.
The United States stays at number six, with a score of 186, sharing the position with Belgium, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.
There’s no change at number seven, with Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Greece and Malta staying together again, with a score of 185.
In eight place, Hungary sits alone, with a score of 183, while Poland has slid from eight to ninth on the list, sharing the spot with Lithuania and Slovakia, with a score of 182. Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia round out the top ten, with a score of 181.
Climate change displacement fears
The report notes that the Russia-Ukraine situation has proved to be a stern reminder of the volatility of the world, the way in which violence and conflict can lead to mass displacement, and exactly how much impact your passport can have on your standing.
“As the value of the Russian passport rapidly declines and the world opens its doors to Ukrainians, it is abundantly clear that the passport you hold determines your fate and dramatically impacts the opportunities you have,” wrote Christian H. Kaelin, chair of Henley & Partners and creator of the passport index concept.
“While it is impossible to predict what the world will look like in the shadow of a new Cold War, the latest index suggests that the divide between Russia and much of the Western world will only increase.”
However, the findings also suggest that the effects of climate change will prove to be the driving force for displacement in the next 25 years, particularly in less economically developed countries.
Professor Dr. Khalid Koser, executive director of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF) nonprofit and member of the governing board of Andan Foundation in Switzerland, which supports displaced people, points out that 15 times more people died due to floods, droughts, and storms “in very vulnerable regions including parts of Africa, South Asia, and Central and South America,” than in the rest of the world.
Experts also indicate that we’re likely to see substantial growth in international travel, which has been hugely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Forecasts suggest that there will be demand for 10 billion passenger journeys by 2050, a considerable rise from the roughly four billion figure pre-pandemic.
This growth is likely to come “from passengers who have never had the opportunity to fly before: in Asia, Africa, and Latin America,” according to Sebastian Mikosz, Vice President of Environment and Sustainability at airline industry body IATA.
The best passports to hold in 2020 are:
1. Japan (191 destinations)
3. South Korea, Germany (189)
4. Italy, Finland, Spain, Luxembourg (188)
5. Denmark, Austria (187)
6. Sweden, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal (186)
7. United States, United Kingdom, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland (185)
7. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, Norway, United Kingdom, United States (185)
8. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, New Zealand (184)
10. Hungary (182)
10. Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia (182)
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:
109. North Korea (39 destinations)
110. Nepal and Palestinian territories (37)
111. Somalia (34)
112. Yemen (33)
113. Pakistan (31)
114. Syria (29)
115. Iraq (28)
116. Afghanistan (26)
Henley & Partners’ 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 covers 227 travel destinations. 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 2020 index puts the UAE on top with a “visa-free score” of 178, followed by Germany, Finland, Luxembourg and Spain with 171.