SA has kept its spot on the passport index – but global mobility has all but ground to a halt

Half the world may be on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, but if travel were on the table, South Africans could rest assured their passport – nicknamed the Green Mamba – has hung onto its position on the Henley Passport Index.

SA is ranked 56th out of 109 countries on the Index for the second quarter, which was released on Tuesday. 

South Africans can travel visa-free or get visa-on-arrival access to 101 destinations in the world. Since February 2020, also to Nigeria.

Rebuilding after lockdown

Amanda Smit, Henley & Partners’ head of South, East and Central Africa, says despite the economic slowdown, exacerbated by the pandemic, it is important for South Africa and other African countries to to try and focus on visa waiver policies. 

“Visa waivers increase tourism, business travel, and bilateral economic transactions. They remain essential for inter-continental economic development,” says Smit.

“The pandemic will not last indefinitely and economies will need to be rebuilt after the pandemic has subsided.”

Does passport strength still have meaning?

Dr Christian H. Kaelin, chair of Henley & Partners and the creator of the passport index concept, says that in an unprecedented global health emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic, relative passport strength becomes temporarily meaningless. 

The pandemic has brought global travel almost to a standstill. This is ironical since, the passport index for the first quarter of this year confirmed that, overall, people were the most globally mobile ever. 

Just three months later, the picture looks very different due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to many countries imposing temporary travel bans or restrictions to try and stop the spreading of the virus. 

The top 10

Nevertheless, on the latest index Japan retains its top spot with a visa-free or visa-on-arrival score of 191. Singapore (190 destinations) continues to hold onto 2nd place and Germany and South Korea (189 destinations) in joint 3rd place.

Three countries are in 4th place with 188 destinations, namely Italy, Finland and Spain. Denmark and Austria (187 destinations) are in joint 5th place with Sweden, France, Portugal, Ireland and The Netherlands (186 destinations) in joint 6th place. Switzerland, the US, the UK, Norway and Belgium (185 destinations) are in joint 7th place and Greece, New Zealand, Malta and the Czech Republic (184 destinations) in joint 8th position. Canada and Australia come in jointly at position 9 with 183 destinations, and the top 10 is rounded off by Hungary with 182 destinations.

The least mobile passports are Iraq and Afghanistan, with respectively only 28 and 26 visa free destinations to choose from.

Post-pandemic mobility

According to the index report, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has seen the biggest increase in travel freedom over the past 10 years. In 2010, the UAE was ranked 65th worldwide, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 64. It is now ranked 18th, with a score of 171 destinations.

Smit believes that in the post Covid-19 environment, investment migration will take on a dramatically enhanced importance for both individual investors and sovereign states. 

“Acquiring alternative residence or citizenship will act as a hedge against the significant macro-economic volatility that is predicted, creating even more sovereign and societal value across the world,” she foresees.

Dr Parag Khanna, founder of FutureMap, says in the index report that the combined effects of the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to much deeper shifts in human geography and future distribution around the world. 

“This may seem ironic given today’s widespread border closures and standstill in global transportation, but as the curtain lifts, people will seek to move from poorly governed and ill-prepared ‘red zones’ to ‘green zones’ or places with better medical care. Alternatively, people may relocate to places where involuntary quarantine, whenever it strikes next, is less torturous,” predicts Khanna.

“Once quarantines lift and airline prices stand at rock bottom, expect more people across the globe to gather their belongings and buy one-way tickets to countries affordable enough to start fresh.”

Political science researchers Ugur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh, respectively, expect that increasing public health concerns due to the outbreak of Covid-19 could become a significant consideration for visa waivers in future. 

The unprecedented and overwhelming focus on health security and pandemic preparedness we now see may change the face of global mobility forever, the two researchers predict.

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