When it comes to passports, it pays to be German

FEW things in life can be as frustrating as applying for a Russian visa. First there is a never-ending form: a list of all the countries you have visited in the past 10 years with exact dates,

details of past employers and managers, education history, insurance numbers—it is endless. Then you must procure an official letter of invitation from the organization you are visiting. As if that were not enough, you have to schlep to some pokey office on the other side town to have your fingerprints taken. All in all, the process cost Gulliver about a month of his time and The Economist over a hundred quid of its cash. My trip to St Petersburg was for a single night.
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I moaned about this to an Indian colleague, but he refused me any sympathy. “Now you know what I have to go through every time I enter Britain,” he sniffed. Indeed. Brits like me take hassle-free travel for granted. According to the latest Visa Restrictions Index, released last month by Henley & Partners, a relocation firm, I can enter 173 of the world’s 218 countries (not including my own) either without a visa or with a visa on arrival. That compares with just 52 that my Indian colleague can (most of which are far-flung Pacific or Caribbean islands).

Britain is joint third on Henley’s list of the world’s most useful passports. Germany comes top. Its citizens can gain visa-free access to 175 countries. At the other end of the list, it is little surprise to find some of the world’s most troubled nations, including Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia.

It will be interesting to see which way the world moves when it comes to visas. As more nations adopt bio metric passports, there should, in theory, be scope for further relaxation of restrictions. And generally as countries’ economies become more global they also tend to loosen visa requirements for travelers. Over the past two years, for example, citizens of the United Arab Emirates have been able to travel visa-free to 45 more countries than before, according to Henley. This includes to the Schengen Area, a group of 26 European nations that have abolished passport controls, making it the first Arab country to be granted a European visa waiver. But as the EU creaks under the weight of its migrant crisis, how many more nations will be afforded this privilege in the coming years? It is not only Europe that is drawing in its horns. America, too, is tightening its waiver programme following the terrorist attacks in Paris. And that is before the possibility of the country electing an anti-immigration president like Donald Trump.

Keeping up barriers to entry is not only frustrating for travellers, it is also probably short-sighted. As we wrote in a leader earlier this year:

Visas are necessary evils. They offer governments a way to control their borders, whether to regulate the flow of immigrants or to pick out threats to security. But the paperwork and fees they entail also deter legitimate tourists and business travellers. Researchers at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, reckon that eliminating all travel visas to the United States would add between $90 billion and $123 billion in annual tourist spending. By one estimate, introducing visa restrictions can lower trade and foreign direct investment between a pair of countries by as much as 25%.

For all that, it will be some time before Afghans are allowed to globe trot in the same hassle-free way as Germans.

culled from: The Economist

Rayo
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