Henley Passport Index and coronavirus pandemic: Lockdown renders world's most powerful passports index as 'meaningless'

The Japanese passport has been named the most powerful in the world in the latest ranking, but the study's authors acknowledge the results are "meaningless" with global travel almost at a standstill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Japan topped the Henley Passport Index with visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 191 counties but, with strict travel restrictions in place worldwide to prevent the spread of Covid-19, non-essential travel for most is impossible right now. 

"A Swiss citizen can, in theory, travel to 185 destinations around the world without needing a visa in advance, but the last few weeks have made it apparent that travel freedom is contingent on factors that occasionally can be utterly beyond our control," said Dr Christian Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners, which produces the index. 

"This is, of course, something that citizens of countries with weak passports in the lower ranks of the index are all too familiar with. As public health concerns and security rightfully take precedence over all else now, even within the otherwise borderless EU, this is an opportunity to reflect on what freedom of movement and citizenship essentially mean for those of us who have perhaps taken them for granted in the past."

Launched in 2006, the Henley Passport Index is the most recognised passport "power ranking" as it's based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which maintains the world's largest and most accurate database of travel information.

The index aims to provide an in-depth picture of travel freedom, including which countries one can access with which type of visa. But, for the first time in its history, that information is essentially defunct. A result, Henley & Partners says, of "the indiscriminate havoc caused by the Covid-19 pandemic". 

Japan also topped the ranking in January, which found that, overall, people were more globally mobile than they had ever been. 

Singapore held onto second place in the Q2 2020 ranking with a score of 190, while Germany shared third place with South Korea with scores of 189. New Zealand, with a score of 184, shared eighth place with the Czech Republic, Greece and Malta. The UK and US were one place ahead of New Zealand with score of 185, while Australia was equal ninth place with Canada at a score of 183. 

With 3.5 billion people, almost half the global population, in self-isolation or quarantine, the latest index raises "challenging questions about what travel freedom and global mobility really mean, both currently and in a deeply uncertain post-pandemic future," the firm says. 

With non-essential travel not an option for people worldwide, the report raises questions about travel freedom and mobility, study authors say.


Some experts, however, predict things will change quickly once restrictions lift.

FutureMap founder Dr Prarag Khanna said the pandemic could prompt many to relocate. 

"[A]s 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...

"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."

Simone Bertoli, professor of Economics at Université Clermont Auvergne in France, said the pandemic could ultimately reduce barriers to international mobility. 

"Humanity is confronted with a truly global challenge against which no country, irrespective of its level of income, can fully protect itself. This pandemic could therefore trigger renewed and more intense international cooperation, something that has so far not happened with the other main global challenge that the world is currently facing, namely climate change."

World's most powerful passports according to the index 

1. Japan

2. Singapore

3. Germany and South Korea

4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain

5. Austria and Denmark.

6. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden

7. Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States

8. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, New Zealand

9. Australia, Canada

10. Hungary

World's least powerful passports according to the index

1. Afghanistan

2. Iraq

3. Syria

4. Pakistan

5. Somalia, Yemen

6. Libya, Nepal, Palestinian Territory

7. Kosovo, Lebanon, Sudan

8. Bangladesh, Iran

9. Congo, Eritrea, Sri Lanka

10. South Sudan


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See also: Woman's souvenir passport stamp gets her banned from flight