How Covid-19 has affected global passports – including South Africa

Henley & Partners has updated its passport index for 2020, ranking all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.

The ranking comes as much of the world remains under varying degrees of lockdown amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, but excludes temporary bans as a result of the outbreak in its tally.

However, the group has not ignored the pandemic in its assessments.

“As parts of the globe cautiously begin to open up, the focus is on what travel freedom and global mobility will look like in a post–Covid-19 world,” it said.

The EU recently released a list of countries whose residents would be allowed entry into the bloc from 1 July, based on coronavirus-related health and safety criteria.

Included on the welcome list are countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, and South Korea that traditionally score highly on the Henley Passport Index. However, the US was notably excluded from the list, as are Brazil and Russia.

“Although not reflected in the latest ranking, which does not take temporary travel bans into account, it is eye-opening to consider what travel freedom currently looks like for the holders of once-prestigious passports,” the group said.

For example, before Covid-19 the US passport usually ranked within the top 10 on the Henley Passport Index in 6th or 7th place, with its citizens able to access 185 destinations around the world without requiring a visa in advance.

However, under the current EU ban, the picture looks starkly different. US nationals now have roughly the same level of travel freedom as citizens of Uruguay, which ranks 28th on the index, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 153.

Without taking the various travel bans and restrictions into account, Japan continues to hold the number one spot on the Henley Passport Index with a score of 191.

Singapore remains in 2nd place with a score of 190, while Germany and South Korea are in joint-3rd place, each with a score of 189.

Both Japan and South Korea have been included on the EU’s list of ‘safe’ countries, while Singapore has been excluded, which means Singaporean passport holders currently have far less travel freedom than their closest competitors on the index.

South Africa

South Africa’s position in the ranking remains unchanged, with or without the EU’s travel restrictions in place, as the country was never included for visa-free travel to the bloc in the first place.

However, experts have warned that passports held by those in developing nations will decrease in value in the short- to medium-term.

As premium passports lose their shine in a post-Covid world, experts suggest that the crisis is likely to restrict international mobility further in the longer term.

“Even as countries open their borders, it is expected that numerous governments will use epidemiological concerns as a justification for imposing new immigration restrictions and nationality-targeted travel bans that will mainly be aimed at citizens of developing countries,” said Prof. Dr. Yossi Harpaz, assistant professor of sociology at Tel Aviv University.

“The passports of both developing and developed nations stand to decrease in value, at least temporarily. In such uncertain times, global demand for dual citizenship and investor visas is expected to increase,” he said.

Current travel restrictions aside, South Africans can still access 101 countries visa-free, ranking 56th overall on the list (down from 51st in 2019).

The main changes from 2019 to 2020 include the removal Dijbouti from the visa-free entry, and the addition of Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Nigeria opened up its borders for visa-on arrival entry to all African nations in December 2019, making it one more place on the continent South Africans can travel to freely.

Sierra Leone, meanwhile, has adopted an eVisa system, with visa on arrival available for South Africans.

Dijbouti has also moved to an eVisa system, but visas on arrival are issued at the discretion of the Djibouti immigration authority with no specific country exemptions. The eVisas are valid for limited times, and restrict entry points.

Below are the countries South Africans can travel to visa-free.

Visa-free entry (68)
Angola Falkland Islands Malawi Senegal
Antigua and Barbuda Fiji Malaysia Singapore
Argentina Grenada Mauritania South Korea
Bahamas Georgia Micronesia St Kitts and Nevis
Barbados Guatemala Mozambique St Lucia
Belize Guyana Montserrat St Vincent and Grenadines
Botswana Haiti Namibia Swaziland
British Virgin Islands Honduras Nicaragua Tanzania
Brazil Hong Kong Niue Thailand
Cayman Islands Indonesia Palestine Trinidad and Tobago
Chile Ireland Panama Tunisia
Cook Islands Israel Paraguay Turks and Caicos Islands
Costa Rica Jamaica Peru Uruguay
Dominica Kenya Philippines Vanuatu
Dominican Republic Kosovo Qatar Venezuela
Ecuador Lesotho Reunion Zambia
El Salvador Macao Russia Zimbabwe

Visa on entry (33)
Armenia Guinea-Bissau Nepal St Helena
Benin Iran Nigeria Tajikstan
Bolivia Jordan Palau Islands Timor-Leste
Cambodia Kyrgystan Rwanda Togo
Cape Verde Laos Samoa Tuvalu
Comores Madagascar Seychelles Uganda
Ethiopia Maldives Sierra Leone
Gabon Marshall Islands Somalia
Ghana Mauritius Sri Lanka

Read: These are the strongest passports in the world right now – and how South Africa compares

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How Covid-19 has affected global passports – including South Africa