Japan and Singapore have the world’s most powerful passports, with citizens of those countries allowed entry to 192 destinations without needing to obtain a visa.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Afghanistan passport will gain holders access to just 26 countries without a visa, the latest Henley Passport Index has revealed.
That means Australians need visas to access 15 countries.
The difference in access is the widest it has been since the citizenship by investment advisory firm began reporting on passports 16 years ago, and COVID-19 is partly to blame.
The index found that countries in the global north with high-ranking passports have implemented the strictest COVID-19 travel restrictions, while countries with less powerful passports have eased border restrictions.
Japan bars nearly all foreign nationals from entry without a visa, while Germany - which has the second most powerful passport - restricts entry for nationals from nearly 100 countries.
Commenting on the report, United Nations fellow Mehari Taddele Maru noted that the restrictive policies that were introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19 are now being used to limit migration in general.
“The global north has been enforcing aggressive migration containment strategies for some time now through the rigid application of border controls, undermining the movement of persons in various ways,” Mehari said.
“Covid-19-associated travel restrictions are new additions to the toolbox of migration containment instruments employed by the global north to curb mobility from the global south.”
It means residents of countries with weak passports face compounding challenges, International Security Program senior fellow Erol Yayboke said.
“Covid-19 is as much an economic crisis as it is a public health one, though in both regards it disproportionately negatively affects migration origin countries,” Yayboke said.
“Increased pressure to move for survival will be met with pandemic-related barriers to movement that are likely to linger, both because the virus itself is lingering and because increased control over migration will be difficult for some leaders to relinquish.”
And it will come with a heavy cost to global equality.
“If we want to restart the global economy, it is critical that developed nations encourage inward migration flows, as opposed to persisting with outmoded restrictions,”Henley & Partners chairman Dr Christian H. Kaelin said.
“Resourceful countries need to futureproof their economies by attracting and welcoming the upcoming generation. It is pivotal that advanced nations consider revising their current somewhat exclusive approach to the rest of the world.”
A global vaccine hierarchy
Ultimately, countries that have access to the widest approval and acceptance rates will experience the greatest convenience while travelling.
“AstraZeneca’s non-replicating viral vector vaccination currently ranks number one, having been approved by more than 120 countries,” SIP Medical Family Office founder Kevin Bürchler said.
“Pfizer–BioNTech’s vaccination is currently approved in 98 countries, Russia’s Sputnik in 71 countries, and Moderna in 69 countries worldwide.”
He said a traveller’s vaccine status may prove to be more important when travelling than the power of their passport.