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Visa Restrictions Index Hints At Changes Ahead In Global Mobility

Eliane Chavagnon

17 March 2017

German nationals are the luckiest in the world in terms of how many countries they can enter without a visa, according to data that prompts questions around how recent events such as Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump will influence global mobility trends.

Even after losing visa-free admission to one country, Germany was crowned king of the 2017 Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index, with access to 176 countries. Closely behind with 175 countries, Sweden remains static in second place, while Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain and the US rank in joint third place, with their nationals enjoying access to 174 countries without needing a visa.

The UK, however, has slipped down yet another position this year to fourth, having shared first place with Germany for three consecutive years from 2013 to 2015. Meanwhile, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan sit at the very bottom of the index, each with visa-free access to fewer than 30 countries.

This is a slight change from last year’s ranking, noted, with Somalia escaping the bottom four with access now to 30 countries, and Syria tumbling into it with just 29.  

“We have witnessed several major events recently that are likely to have an impact on global mobility – including Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump,” said Christian Kälin, chairman of Henley & Partners.

“Both can be interpreted as steps toward restricting movement and creating barriers to entry. This trend towards curbing travel freedom is already apparent in the shift in rankings on this year’s Visa Restrictions Index,” Kälin said.

Kälin added that there remains “huge disparity in the levels of travel freedom between countries”, even though the world seems to be becoming more mobile and interdependent.

“Generally, visa requirements are a reflection of a country’s relationship with others, and take into account diplomatic relationships between countries, reciprocal visa arrangements, security risks, and the dangers of visa and immigration regulation violations,” he explained.

Citizenship-by-investment programmes

In contrast to 12 years ago when the index was first published, there are now many more residence and citizenship-by-investment programmes available for those who want to enhance their travel freedom. Wealthy individuals in particular are increasingly looking to diversify their citizenship portfolios to give themselves and their families greater international opportunity, stability, freedom and security, Henley & Partners said.

Kälin highlighted that those countries that offer the most important citizenship-by-investment programmes continue to perform strongly on the Visa Restrictions Index. Indeed, one firm specialising in migration and citizenship advice in regions such as the Caribbean has, like many others, seen a surge of enquiries following the UK's vote to leave the EU (see here).

“For individuals who hold passports of countries with fewer visa waiver agreements, a second or even third citizenship can open up travel opportunities to countries previously restricted by time-consuming visa application requirements and processes.,” he said. “The Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index is relevant to both individuals interested in improving their mobility and the quality of their nationality, as well as governments focused on improving the local, regional and global opportunities inherent in their passports.”