Passport power: South Africa has dropped 15 places
While South Africa remains an under-performer‚ Japan is the best passport to have and the Emirati are capitalising on tourism to diversify their economies‚ according to an index of global travel access. President Cyril Ramaphosa is targeting travel within Africa to improve SA's future scenario.
Since reaching its highest rank of 35th globally in both the 2008 and 2009 Henley Passport Index listings‚ South Africa has dropped 15 places‚ now occupying 50th place overall‚ offering 102 destinations with visa-free access.
Japan leads by offering its citizens visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 189 destinations. Singapore and Germany hold joint 2nd place‚ with 188 destinations accessible without a prior visa. Third place is shared by six countries: one Asian (South Korea) and the rest European (Finland‚ France‚ Italy‚ Spain‚ and Sweden)‚ according to the latest Henley Passport Index.
Amanda Smit‚ director of Henley & Partners South Africa‚ commented on Tuesday: "Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the poorest performing regions on the Henley Passport Index ... Other regions are simply performing better and improving faster."
"As a result of the relatively sluggish growth in mobility for Sub-Saharan Africans‚ the region has become an important centre for outbound investment migration‚ with many financially independent acquiring more powerful passports through citizenship-by-investment programmes overseas."
Ryan Cummings‚ director of Signal Risk‚ a political and security risk-management consultancy‚ said driving the downward spiral of South Africa on the rankings were "concerns over the unlawful replication of South African passports documents‚ with replication often abetted by corrupt officials within the Department of Home Affairs."
These concerns saw visa regulations being enforced by several countries‚ including the UK and Colombia. However‚ the implementation of widespread reforms at Home Affairs since 2014 - focused on improving security features both in the application process and within the passport document itself - was expected to enhance confidence in the South African passport and could see a relaxation of visa restrictions for its holders going forward.
"Other factors that could strengthen the South Africa passport over the short-to-medium-term include President Cyril Ramaphosa’s intention to ease visa restrictions for African passport holders so as to induce greater intra-Africa trade‚ in addition to his deployment of an economic envoy with the mandate of securing USD 100 billion in foreign direct investment‚" said Cummings. "Both of these developments are expected to bring about an uptick in the signing of bilateral visa-waiver agreements between South Africa and its trade partners‚ as a means of facilitating ease of trade and commerce."
In the region‚ first and second place are held by the Seychelles and Mauritius‚ respectively. The report noted that both islands maintain visa-waiver agreements with Schengen countries as well as their own relatively open visa policies.
The Seychelles‚ which renders itself a completely visa-free destination‚ secured further deregulated visa access for its passport-holders through visa waivers from the governments of Thailand and Angola in the first quarter of 2018. Similarly‚ Mauritius‚ which is visa-free for all but 16 countries‚ secured a visa-waiver agreement with New Zealand in April 2018.
The UAE‚ in 23rd place‚ is the fastest overall climber on the index‚ rising 38 places since 2008. Henley states the country has secured more new visa-waivers for its citizens in 2018 than any other jurisdiction in the world.
In 2018 alone‚ the UAE has gained access to eight new countries: China‚ Ireland‚ Burkina Faso‚ Uruguay‚ Guinea‚ Tonga‚ Benin‚ and Honduras.
Cummings commented: “The visa-waiver agreements signed by the UAE to date are very much in line with the country’s ongoing intention to position itself as the foremost commercial hub in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) zone‚ where it is increasingly hosting the regional headquarters of multinational firms operating in culturally diverse industries such as healthcare‚ professional and financial services‚ and digital technologies. These developments also reflect the country’s publicized goal of shifting its economic dependence away from the extractive industry towards the tourism sector‚ where it aims to create an ambitious 720‚000 employment opportunities by 2028.”
Economic diversification away from the oil sector and towards the less volatile tourism industry has become a common theme across the GCC zone: Qatar extended a visa-waiver programme to more than 80 countries in the final quarter of 2017‚ and the country has continued this trend in 2018‚ as part of its aim to attract 8-million tourists annually by 2030. Saudi Arabia‚ too‚ issued inaugural tourist visas on April 1 this year‚ seeking to secure its own target of 30 million tourists by 2030.