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Power of passports: UAE has the economic recipe to leap across borders

In a world where borders are supposedly becoming ever the more blurred, one document still makes all the difference: the passport.

Media outlets and social media marketing might try to sell you on the reality of an ‘interconnected, global community,’ but the fact remains that to leave the confines of your local borders, the ‘power’ of your passport makes all the difference.

The Henley Passport Index, based on IATA data, measures just that.

Their latest Index, released this month, has revealed significant findings: The UAE has climbed from 62nd place in 2006 to 21st place worldwide currently, and ranks first among Middle Eastern countries. It has visa-free access to 161 destinations.

The story behind UAE’s resurgent passport power

The UAE has strengthened its position as the passport-power champion of the Middle East, having signed a visa-waiver with Russia in July, which is due to come into effect in the coming months. The move underscores the country’s remarkable ascent on the Henley Passport Index in recent years.

Marco Gantenbein, Managing Partner of Henley & Partners Dubai and Head of the Middle East Operations, says, “The UAE’s latest visa-waiver agreement with Russia is a testament to its status as a growing international hub of business, trade, tourism, and culture.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Cummings, Director of Signal Risk, notes that the initiative is aimed at “strengthening bilateral relations between the UAE and another global superpower”, following the visa-waiver signed with China earlier this year. This latest agreement with Russia will help the UAE “lower its dependence on its hydrocarbon sector and continue its robust economic growth trajectory” by stimulating tourism and trade.

Couple all this with the UAE’s continuing investments into non-oil sectors, while holding significant wealth, and you could see that the country’s future is looking very promising, which is boosting its passport power.

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Where does the rest of the Middle East rank?

The Henley Passport Index records the passports of the world according to the number of countries their holders can travel to visa-free. The ranking is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which maintains the world’s largest and most comprehensive database of travel information, and is enhanced by extensive in-house research.

This year, some Middle Eastern countries had some impressive showings.


Infographic by the Henley Passport Index

The UAE has struck gold, going for 1st place in the Middle East, with a good lead. It is 21st internationally, climbing an impressive 17 spots since 2017.

2nd in the region is Turkey, 30 spots behind the UAE, at 51st place.

Kuwait is 3rd regionally, and 55th internationally.

Qatar is 4th, with a global rank of 60th.

Finally, Bahrain closes on the 5th spot, and 64th globally.


Infographic by the Henley Passport Index

The troubling news, however, is that 5 MENA countries rank in the bottom 5 global ranking. Palestine, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Iraq rank as the weakest passports in the world. Lebanon ranked 100th out of 105 places.

As for the top 5 most powerful passports, Japan, Singapore, France, Germany and South Korea lead the charge.

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Citizenship-by-investment countries make strong gains

The Index notes that countries with citizenship-by-investment (CBI) ranked the highest, with the top 50 countries all providing CBI.

They state that newcomer Moldova, for example, which launched its CBI program in the second half of this year, has climbed 20 places since 2008. Every CBI program country has improved its visa-free/visa-on-arrival score since the start of the year.

“CBI programs offer access to some of the world’s strongest and most promising passports,” says Dr. Chris Kälin, “and the merit of these passports is a reflection of the underlying stability and attractiveness of the countries themselves. The travel freedom that comes with a second passport is significant for individuals, while the economic and societal value that CBI programs generate for host countries can be transformative.”

Generally, countries with a good international standing and an image of a safe, modernized nation rank high on the Index. On the other hand, countries like Iraq and Lebanon, which suffer from political and economic instability, and rank very low on Transparency International’s corruption index, have naturally dropped down the list.

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