November 15, 2019 | 7:40 am
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It’s the Age of Asia When it Comes to Passport Power

As the global economy transforms and centers of power shift, Asia’s dominance appears to be unfaltering. Entering into the final quarter of 2019, Japan and Singapore retain a firm hold on first place on the Henley Passport Index, each with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 190 out of a maximum 227. For most of the index’s 14-year history – which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – the top spot has been held by a European country or by the US. However, this shifted dramatically in 2018, with Asian countries now firmly established as world leaders when it comes to both global economic activity and global mobility.

With visa-free/visa-on-arrival scores of 188, Finland, Germany, and South Korea remain in 2nd place, while Denmark, Italy, and Luxembourg are in 3rd place, with citizens of those countries now able to access 187 destinations worldwide without requiring a visa in advance. With a score of 184, the UK and the US remain in joint 6th place – the lowest position either country has held since 2010 and a significant drop from their 1st-place ranking in 2014.

While the positions on the index’s top 10 have remained relatively stable since the last update in July, there have been some striking shifts further down the ranking. Most dramatically, the UAE has climbed an extraordinary five places over the last three months after gaining visa-free access to a number of African countries, including South Africa, and now sits in 15th place, with UAE passport holders able to access 172 destinations without a prior visa. Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan remain at the bottom of the ranking, with visa-free/visa-on-arrival scores of just 29, 27, and 25, respectively.

Passport power and economic freedom

Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners and the creator of the passport index concept, says: “Our ongoing research has shown that when we talk about ‘passport power’, we are discussing more than simply the destinations a holder can travel to without acquiring a visa in advance. Often, there is a strong correlation between visa freedom and other benefits such as business and investment freedom, independence of the judiciary, fiscal health, and property rights.”

Using historic data from the Henley Passport Index and the Index of Economic Freedom, political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh, respectively, found a strongly positive connection between visa freedom and a variety of indicators of economic freedom, including foreign direct investment inflows, property rights, tax burden, and investment freedom. Altundal and Zarpli observed that “countries that have higher visa scores also rank higher in economic freedom, especially in investment, financial, and business freedom”. One especially striking example of this positive correlation is Singapore, which ranks highest in nearly all economic indicators and holds the top spot on the Henley Passport Index.

Brexit, the EU, and the wider global implications

While Brexit is – in theory, at least – only weeks away, the focus is firmly on how it will affect migration policy to and from the UK. As Madeleine Sumption from The Migration Observatory at Oxford University notes, these questions remain unanswered, even as the deadline looms. “Unlike trade policy, the future of immigration policy in the UK does not depend fundamentally on whether or not the UK leaves the EU with a deal. In either scenario, there will be a ‘transitional period’ until at least December 2020, in which free movement of EU citizens to the UK will continue more or less as it operates today. After that, the UK is expected to introduce a new immigration system. The full details have not yet been announced, but it will make long-term settlement much more difficult for EU citizens. And UK citizens who want to move to EU countries after Brexit will also face more restrictive immigration regimes.”

In terms of Brexit’s potential wider global impact, Dr. Parag Khanna, Founder and Managing Partner of FutureMap, says: “For more than a year, former UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has been saying that Asia would need to be a pillar of the country’s post-Brexit global economic policy. If indeed the UK is able to advance more free trade in services with Asian countries, this will require more British citizens to spend time in Asia to generate business across sectors such as finance, advisory, education, and others. At present, however, Asian markets have not prioritized individual free trade agreements with the UK over their current negotiations with the EU.”

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