The latest Henley Passport Index shows that the ‘strength’ of a local South African passport has weakened – ranking 56th, down three places from a year ago, and almost 10 places lower than its position on the index in 2010.
By contrast, other BRICS nations such as Brazil and China have improved their positions over the same period, by nine places and sixteen places respectively.
Like South Africa, India and Russia have also seen the power of their passports decline during that time frame, but not to such a great extent — dropping by seven places in the case of India, and two places for Russia.
The index is an original ranking of all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.
The shift in South Africa’s ranking is emblematic of the widening global mobility gap between African countries and other regions featured on the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
However, South Africa still commands a relatively high score when compared to its continental neighbours, with visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to 100 destinations globally.
The Seychelles remains the regional lead, ranking at 29th globally with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 151, while Mauritius retains its regional 2nd-place position with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 146.
Henley managing Partner and head of South, Central and East Africa, Amanda Smit, said the implementation of reciprocal visa waivers is the determining factor for upward movement in the global ranking.
“The rankings seem to have dropped but it is not that African countries have lost access – it’s that they are remaining static, while other countries are in a position to make mutually beneficial arrangements which add value to their global mobility,” she said.
“All these countries have unchanged scores, but the rankings have shifted. One reason for this shift is that Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Barbados have changed their visa policies, giving visa-free access to a number of countries, but not Seychelles, Mauritius, or South Africa.”
Analysing the index’s historic data, political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli, of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh respectively, found a positive correlation between travel freedom and other kinds of liberties – from the economic to the political, and even individual or human freedoms.
“There’s a distinct correlation between visa freedom and investment freedom, for instance. Similar to trade freedom, European states such as Austria, Malta, and Switzerland that have a business-friendly environment, tend to rank highly when it comes to passport power,” the researchers said.
“Likewise, by using the Human Freedom Index, we have found a strong correlation between personal freedoms such as identity, association and expression, and travel freedom.”