When it comes to international travel, some countries’ citizens have it better than others. According to the 2016 Visa Restrictions Index conducted by London-based consultancy Henley and Partners, a German passport offers the greatest access to the world, allowing citizens to visit 177 of the world’s 218 countries without needed a visa.
In second place is fellow northern European country Sweden, whose passport offers visa-free access to just one less country than Germany’s. As International Business Times reports:
The third place was shared by Finland, France, Italy, Spain and the U.K. Fourth came Belgium, Denmark and Netherlands. Amongst the worst passport rankings, Iraq came third followed by Pakistan in second place and Afghanistan leading the pack. While Pakistani passport holders can visit 29 countries without needing a visa, Afghan nationals can travel to only 25 countries visa-free.
The new index reflects major changes as the U.S. moved from its first position as the strongest passport in 2014 and 2015 to the fourth position now. “Criteria that a country will consider when considering giving visa-free access to citizens of another country may include diplomatic relationships between the countries, reciprocal visa arrangements, security risks, or risks of violation of visa terms,” said a representative of Henley and Partners, reported CNN.
Indeed, the power of a country’s passport is not just relevant to worldly travelers: it is a reflection of a country’s diplomatic standing in the international community, and is an important resource in a rapidly globalizing world. As the consultancy that conducted the index notes:
In today’s globalised world, visa restrictions play an important role in controlling the movement of foreign nationals across borders … Visa requirements are also an expression of the relationships between individual nations, and generally reflect the relations and status of a country within the international community of nations,” said Henley and Partners.
Germany’s status as a leading economic and cultural power, as well as its largely benign and pacifistic foreign policy, are likely major factors in its ability to gain visa-free access to other nations; Sweden similarly takes a humanitarian and neutral approach to world affairs, giving it plenty of diplomatic leeway.
By contrast, the citizens from places with belligerent or roguish governments, or that are tainted by war and political violence, are going to be much less welcomed in other nations. (In many cases, these often poor and unstable countries often have bigger problems to worry about than bringing down trade or migrations barriers.)
As globalization intensifies, and rates of migration, trade, and cultural exchange continue to grow, I wonder if there will ever be a time when visas will be regarded as a needless impediments. No doubt, there would need to be more peace within and between most nations — as is the case in mostly visa-free countries like Germany or Sweden — before most of the world’s population can travel unimpeded. It might not be in my lifetime, but it is much less inconceivable than it used to be.
One thing is for certain: if fewer visa restrictions speak volumes about a country’s political, economic, and diplomatic success, imagine what it says when the entire world is without such a system.