NOMPU SIZIBA: The Henley Passport Index continues to see the South African passport as a stable one, ranked at 56 out of the countries that it measures. Thus, despite the travel havoc that has been brought about by the Coronavirus-associated lockdowns and travel bans. And, while some countries have opened up their airspace, they have prohibited certain countries from being able to enter their countries, because of concerns around how those countries are currently handling the Covid-19 pandemic. The European Union is a case in point which has opened up its borders to a number of countries, but has decided to exclude the United States, among others.
Well, to discuss South Africa’s standing, the implications of travel bans on the global economy and why, more than ever, the ability to travel freely has become so important, I’m joined on the line by Amanda Smit, the managing partner at Henley & Partners South Africa. Thank you very much for joining us, Amanda.
So, what elements go into determining a country’s passport ranking? Just give us examples of those countries that tend to score well.
AMANDA SMIT: Hi, good evening, Nompu. Thank you very much for having me. Yes, I think let me start off by explaining exactly what the Henley Passport Index is. It’s the original ranking of all the world’s passports, according to the number of destinations their holders can access without having to obtain a prior visa. That data we collect from the International Air Transport Association, which obviously maintains the world’s largest and most accurate database of travel information. That is then further enhanced by continuous research by the Henley Partners research team. So I think it’s good that we start off just by talking a bit about South Africans’ ranking.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes.
AMANDA SMIT: Obviously, as part of the globe cautiously begins to open up, the focus really is on what travel freedom and global mobility will look like in a post-Covid-19 world. At the moment, moving into this third quarter of 2020, South Africa currently retains its 56th rank worldwide.
AMANDA SMIT: Out of how many countries?
AMANDA SMIT: All the countries in the world. So we are at number 56 of the world’s ranking. With our passports we can travel visa-free to 101 destinations.
So, obviously, if you compare that to some of the world’s most powerful passports, let’s look at the one that currently ranks number one, Japan. They can travel visa-free to 191 countries. All of those are within your developed countries, such as the United States and all the countries in the EU. So we do have a long way to go, to achieve that kind of level of visa-free access.
But what is very, very interesting, and what happens now is, if we look at the United States, for instance, the United States has featured in the top 10 of the Henley Passport Index for a very long time. It used to be either number six or number seven in the world, and its citizens could travel to 185 destinations around the globe. So now we know that the US recently crossed the three-million mark in terms of the number of Covid-19 cases –-.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes.
AMANDA SMIT: –- and more than 132 000 people have died from the disease. So the pandemic has drastically diminished the power of the US passport. I’m saying that because the European Union has now effectively blocked Americans from travelling to its shores.
NOMPU SIZIBA: I do see, from the piece that you have put out, that America now has the same level of power in its passport as the Uruguayan passport..
AMANDA SMIT: Exactly. If we look at this South American nation of Uruguay, it is ranked 28th in the world. America is now almost at the same level as they are.
The other thing that that’s quite important to notice is that, while the US passport still officially ranks number seven on the Henley Passport Index, that does not take into account the temporary travel ban when it comes up on the power list. But it is a significant downgrade from what was always the most treasured passport in the world.
NOMPU SIZIBA: We see that in the United States President Donald Trump has suspended work visas for foreign workers. I suppose he’s using the argument that he’s trying to protect Americans from further cases of Coronavirus. But, of course, like you say, it’s questionable as to how he’s dealing with it within his own borders – and we know that he’s never really hidden his protectionist tendencies. Clearly instances like this will really hamper people’s ability to socially migrate and find what they deem to be a better life, which is part of the reason people do migrate.
AMANDA SMIT: Yes, exactly. And a very interesting fact, as well, is that last week the European Union released a list of countries that would be allowed entry into the bloc – from July 1. One of those countries was actually Uruguay. Uruguay can travel to the EU, but the United States can’t. So, one thing that’s for sure, as environmental health concerns are becoming a priority for people at this moment, we are all looking towards countries that have handled the pandemic in a very good way. We can certainly expect that, in the case of places that are governed well and are better equipped to deal with the pandemic, people are going to start looking more and more to acquiring alternative residences or citizenship.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes. But of course that can be costly.
AMANDA SMIT: It does come at a cost, certainly it does. But, in terms of the benefits that one can look at, the global world pandemic and how everything is kind of shifting and changing around the world, let me just give you one example. We talked about the US. So obviously the US and other countries’ [rankings] shows us that the power of the European Union lies in its union of 27 member states. So that is a bloc, and you’re blocked from 27 states.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes.
AMANDA SMIT: But then, of course, the opposite is also true. If the EU accepts you as a resident or for a citizenship, you have the option to live, work or study and travel freely between the 27 states.
So, at this moment, I think, where we had the most powerful passports in the world in comparison to your developing countries, it is going to become almost essential for people, at a cost which you need to be able to afford, to increase your mobility and increase your options in terms of where you would like to reside in the world.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Isn’t there a danger. Amanda? Do you not worry that passports can be weaponised, if you like? If you see what’s happening between the US and the EU, one kind of figures that it’s more than just a health issue, because how long will that ban stay in place? And, with President Trump also instituting the withdrawal of visas from foreign workers, can we begin to see tit-for-tat and the weaponisation of passports?
AMANDA SMIT: I hear what you are saying. Obviously that is something that is happening and it is a great possibility that can even increase further from other countries. But these are openers, as when a state has a less restrictive visa policy. But in terms of people or countries now trying to protect their own people, they are restricting people from coming in and from going out. So what you said in terms of having more than one passport certainly can only benefit such individuals.
Whether you are blocked by one country, and given access by another one, we are all in this pandemic where we are learning as the days go by. But certainly the more options and benefits you have the better it can be.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Indeed. Amanda, thank you very much for speaking to us this evening.