World's most powerful passports 2020: US plummets in rankings due to COVID-19 travel bans

Citizens from countries that have handled the outbreak of COVID-19 poorly have seen the power of their passports greatly reduced, according to the latest report on the world's most powerful passports.

The Henley Passport Index, which ranks passports based on how many countries they allow entry to visa-free or with visa on arrival, has released its latest rankings.

Japan has maintained its place at the top of the rankings with access to 191 countries, based on visa requirements and not taking into account current temporary travel restrictions.

Australia remained unchanged at 183 in equal ninth place, behind 24 other countries including New Zealand, which has access to 184 countries visa-free.

However, Henley and Partners, a global citizenship and residence advisory firm based in London, pointed out that when current travel restrictions are taken into account, some countries are faring far worse on the question of travel freedom.

The report highlighted the US, typically ranked 7th on the index with its citizens able to visit 185 countries, as a country that has seen its passport power plummet due to widespread COVID-19 infections.

When taking into account the countries that have recently banned US citizens, its raking falls from 7th to equal 25th, on par with Uruguay. In 2014 the US passport was ranked the most powerful in the world.

Ironically, given US President Donald Trump's rhetoric about Mexican immigrants, Americans now have roughly the same travel freedoms of those usually enjoyed by Mexican citizens (25th).

The European Union last week announced its "safe travel" list of 14 countries that would be allowed to visit the Schengen area countries within the bloc as tourists. The list included Australian, New Zealanders and Canadians, but Americans were excluded.


Brazil, which is also struggling to contain the pandemic, has dropped from 19th in the raking to 36th. Similarly Singapore, which is normally ranked 2nd, has also been excluded from the EU safe list, as has Japan. 

The rankings are based on data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Henley and Partners chairman and creator of the passport index concept, said the EU's travel restrictions had a large impact.

"The pandemic's impact on travel freedom has been more drastic and long lasting than initially anticipated," he said.

"This latest decision by the EU indicates that there is more upheaval to come. Look at the US passport, for example — in 2014, it held the number one spot in the world on our index, but US nationals currently have far less travel freedom than most citizens of other wealthy, industrialised nations and even of some less developed nations, being effectively locked out of Europe."

Dr Kaeline predicted the emergence of "a new global hierarchy" in terms of international mobility, with countries that have managed the COVID-19 outbreak leading the way, with others falling behind.

The world's most powerful passports 2020

(not accounting for current travel restrictions)

  1. Japan 191

  2. Singapore 190
  3. Germany, South Korea 189
  4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain 188
  5. Austria, Denmark 187
  6. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden 186
  7. Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States 185
  8. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, New Zealand 184
  9. Australia, Canada 183
  10. Hungary 182

The world's least powerful passports 2020

99. South Sudan 43
100. Congo (Dem. Rep.), Eritrea, Sri Lanka 42
101. Bangladesh, Iran 41
102. Kosovo, Lebanon, Sudan 40
103. North Korea 39
104. Libya, Nepal Palestinian Territory 38
105. Somalia, Yemen 33
106. Pakistan 32
107. Syria 29
108. Iraq 28
109. Afghanistan 26

See also: The secrets behind Australian passports

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