(CNN) – Only a few months ago, the world enjoyed greater freedom of movement than at any time in history.
Worldwide, citizens enjoy visa-free or on-arrival visa access to 107 destinations on average – almost double the 58 destinations that were open to the average traveler when the index began in 2006.
After losing the freedom of movement we once underestimated, what are the long-term and short-term impacts on the strength of passports in 2020 and beyond?
CNN Travel spoke exclusively with Christian Kälin, creator of the Henley Passport Index, which is sometimes known as “The Passport King.”
“This is a very simple measure,” Kälin said of the index, which is based on data provided by the International Air Transport Authority (IATA) and covers 199 passports and 227 travel destinations. “This is a broad reflection of geopolitical relations and measures of state openness.”
Luxembourg and Spain joined Italy and Finland in fourth place, while Austria rose to join Denmark in fifth. The index is updated in real time throughout the year, when and when changes to visa policies come into force.
However, the unprecedented state of new coronavirus outbreaks, in some cases, changed the strength of passports.
“Look at Spain, or other countries that have full closure. Previously, as a citizen of Spain, you have one of the best passports in the world in terms of free travel,” explained Kälin. “Now, if you are also a citizen of Bangladesh – usually a very bad passport for visa-free travel – you can freely go to the airport and get on a plane, if you find it, and leave Spain.”
Kalin is of the view that this pandemic will not have a long-term impact on the passport index, and that things will return to more or less normal.
However, “if you look at the current crisis, aspects of health – the quality of the health system, the quality of emergency care, access to health protection and healthy services – suddenly appear. That has never been a consideration in visa policies so far.”
While policies are usually guided by “questions that mostly stand up to the country’s economic and geopolitical standing,” it will be interesting, Kalin said, to see whether future health security will be a greater factor when it comes to visa relief.
Kalin said it should be noted that the passport index is an effective but crude tool in comparing geopolitical influences. The United States is more attractive as a business and leisure destination than North Korea, for example, but this index ranks visa-free access to each country with the same value.
Performance is relative
Japan ranks 1 in the Passport Index and the United States ranks 7th, but the National Quality Index ranks No. 26 and No. 25
“Japan is a great country, but you can only live in Japan,” Kalin explained. “With a US passport you can only really live in the United States. You even need a settlement permit to go to Canada.”
Compare this with the generous settlement rights enjoyed by citizens in the European Union, or the 15 countries that make up the Caribbean Community.
“But on the National Quality Index, Britain might lose significantly. Suddenly you can’t just settle in Spain [if you hold a British passport], You need permission. “
‘Out of our control’
The surge can be attributed to the desire for freedom of movement granted by becoming an EU citizen. “In terms of passport strength, Ireland remains similar to Britain, but in terms of national quality, Ireland is suddenly better,” Kalin explained.
Kalin said in today’s press release, “The last few weeks have made it clear that freedom of travel depends on factors which can sometimes be completely out of our control.
“Because public health and safety issues take precedence over others now, this is an opportunity to reflect on what freedom of movement and citizenship means for those of us who might consider it to be the way it was in the past.”
The best passports to have in 2020 are:
1. Japan (191 destinations)
2. Singapore (190)
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)
8. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, New Zealand (184)
9. Canada, Australia (183)
10. Hungary (182)
The Henley & Partners list is one of several indices created by financial companies to rank global passports according to the access they provide to their citizens.
The Arton Capital Passport Index considers passports from 193 UN member states and six regions – Taiwan’s ROC, Macau (SAR China), Hong Kong (SAR China), Kosovo, Palestinian Territory and the Vatican. Regions attached to other countries are not included.
The 2020 index puts the UAE at the top with “visa-free scores” of 178, followed by Germany, Finland, Luxembourg and Spain with 171.