SA needs more visa-free deals if it wants to stop losing 'passport power' - expert

Although the South African passport has lost 10 positions over the last decade on the latest Henley Passport Index, the country could play catch-up if a concerted effort is made to secure mutual visa waivers with so-called "high quality nations".

This is the view of Amanda Smit, managing partner and head of South, Central and East Africa at the UK-based global citizenship and residence advisory firm Henley & Partners.

South Africa ranks 56th on the latest index, which ranks passports in the world according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa. It is based on data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The UAE, for example, managed to increase its passport's position on the index by 47 places over the last 10 years to 18th place, Smit told Fin24 on Wednesday.

Going places

Looking specifically at the BRICS countries, of which SA forms part, Smit said that, while Brazil and China improved their positions on the index over the past 10 years by nine and sixteen places respectively, India and Russia have also seen the power of their passports decline during that time, dropping by seven and two places respectively.

Smit says one might think the SA passport's visa free or visa on arrival access to 100 destinations is a lot, but compare that to the Japanese passport (ranked in first place on the index) which offers 191 visa-free destinations.

On top of that, none of the 100 visa free destinations for an SA passport are in what Smit describes as the "most popular" destinations. In her view, that makes it more difficult to be "mobile" for business or leisure purposes.

She also argues that, while other African countries' passports mainly remained static on the index, the SA passport lost ground.

Among African countries, the Seychelles remains the regional lead, ranking 29th globally with a visa-free or visa-on-arrival score of 151, while Mauritius retains second place with a visa-free or visa-on-arrival score of 146.

"My advice is that, if SA wants to improve the strength of our passport, we must be more proactive to obtain mutual visa agreements with other countries - preferably 'high quality' nations," Smit says.

Down, down, down

The index shows the US and the UK continues on a downward trajectory.

While both countries remain in the top 10, their shared 8th-place position is a significant decline from the number one spot they jointly held in 2015. Finland and Italy share 4th place, while Denmark, Luxembourg, and Spain together hold 5th place. Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the index, with access to only 26 destinations worldwide.

Countries with citizenship-by-investment programmes continue to consolidate their positions on the index. Malta currently sits in 9th place, while Montenegro holds on to 46th place. In the Caribbean, St Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda have secured 27th and 30th spot, respectively.

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