World’s most powerful passports 2021 named but still restricted

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Japan's passport is the world's most powerful, granting holders access to 193 countries without having to obtain a visa in advance. Photo: iStock

Dailynewsun Desk:

The latest rankings for the world’s most powerful passports have been named, but it’s unlikely travellers who hold them will be able to take advantage any time soon.

With one-third of all countries around the world now banning international visitors, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, passports are not as useful as they were before the pandemic, reports traveler.com.au.

Japan again topped the list in the latest Henley Passport Index, which ranks passports based on the number of countries travellers can visit without obtaining a visa or receiving one on arrival.

Citizens of Japan can visit 193 countries visa-free, followed closely by Singapore (192), Germany and South Korea (both 191). Australia was ranked equal ninth with Canada, with access to 185 countries visa-free.

The world’s most powerful passports
1. Japan (193 destinations)
2. Singapore (192)
3. Germany, South Korea (191)
4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain (190)
5. Austria, Denmark (189)
6. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden (188)
7. New Zealand, Belgium, Switzerland, United Kingdom,
8. United States (187)
9. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, Norway (186)
10. Australia, Canada (185)
11. Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia (183)

The least powerful Passports
1. Afghanistan (26)
2. Iraq (28)
3. Syria (29)
4. Pakistan (32)
5. Yemen (33)
6. Somalia (34)
7. Palestinian territories (37)
8. Nepal (38)
9. North Korea (39)
10. Kosovo, Libya (40)

However, the rankings do not take into account COVID-19 restrictions around the world. Australians, of course, are not currently allowed to leave the country without first obtaining permission from the federal government.

From Sunday night, the number of overseas countries Australians can freely visit will increase to one: New Zealand, when the long-awaited trans-Tasman bubble opens.

Japan’s residents are currently allowed to leave the country, but the Japanese government has banned all foreign visitors from 152 countries from entering Japan, Those not on that list, including Australians and Japanese citizens, face strict conditions for returning including COVID-19 tests upon arrival and quarantine (which can be self-isolation, if approved by quarantine officers).

Afghanistan was at the bottom of the passport list, followed by Iraq and Syria.

“The gap in travel freedom is now at its largest since the index began in 2006, with Japanese passport holders able to access 167 more destinations than citizens of Afghanistan, who can visit only 26 destinations worldwide without acquiring a visa in advance,” the Henley report said.

China and the United Arab Emirates have had the largest jump in the number of countries their citizens can visit. Over the past 10 years, China has climbed 22 places on the index, from 90th to 68th spot, increasing its access to visa-free countries from 40 to 77. The UAE has climbed even further, from 65th position and 67 countries, to 15th position with 174 countries.

Dr Christian H. Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and creator of the passport index, said “the latest ranking is a reminder that economic recovery and development are dependent on global mobility, including personal travel freedom, and that passport power should never be taken for granted.”

“While nobody expects a return to pre-pandemic mobility levels anytime soon, the outlook now is certainly more hopeful than it was even a few months ago.”

Australians may be feeling less hopeful, after federal health minister Greg Hunt said on Tuesday that even if the entire country was vaccinated, that would not mean international borders could re-open. However, the trans-Tasman travel bubble contains a loophole that means Australians could visit New Zealand and then travel on to other countries without obtaining permission from the federal government.

A report by Deloitte Access Economics this week also predicted that international travel would not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. UNWTO figures showed global tourism was down 87 per cent in January 2021 compared with the same time last year. The Asia Pacific region was the worst hit, with tourism numbers down 96 per cent.

With international borders closed, the number of Australians renewing or applying for passports has plummeted. In 2019, the Passport Office issued 2,208,767. In 2020, this dropped to just 882,622, a decline of 60 per cent.

With a standard 10-year passport costing $301 (one of the world’s most expensive), the border closure has cost the Passport Office hundreds of millions in lost revenue.