“Under the leadership of PM Modi, India’s pride has increased…Many overseas Indians have said that the value of Indian passports has increased. The only desire in the heart of every Indian is that we should become a ‘Vishwa Guru’,” said Union minister Piyush Goyal, during a six-day visit to San Francisco and Los Angeles. His statement, reported by news websites, sparked discussions among Twitter users. While many hailed the achievement, others said the information was not true and that the value of Indian passports has decreased.
How Do You Assess The Strength Of A Passport?
A passport’s strength is measured by the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa. A keyword search for “Indian passport strength”, “passports ranking”, led us to various reports that ranked passports. All these reports cited the Henley Passport Index, which was based on data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
The Henley & Partners website states that The Henley Passport Index is the original and most authoritative passport index, with historical data spanning 17 years. Describing its scoring methodology, the website states that the index compares “visa-free access of 199 different passports to 227 travel destinations.”
If no visa is required, then a score with value = 1 is created for that passport. The same applies if you can obtain a visa on arrival, a visitor’s permit, or an electronic travel authority (ETA) when entering the destination. Where a visa is required, or where a passport holder has to obtain a government-approved electronic visa (e-Visa) before departure, a score with value = 0 is assigned. This also applies if you need pre-departure government approval for a visa on arrival. The total score for each passport is equal to the number of destinations for which no visa is required (value = 1).”
World’s Strongest Passport
Japan has the world’s most powerful passport, providing hassle-free entry to 193 countries, as per the latest Henley Passport Index. India’s passport ranked 87th globally, offering visa-free access to 60 countries, including Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia and Macau. The least powerful is the Afghanistan passport, which, at rank 112, grants visa-free access to only 27 countries. According to the index, the average number of countries that any individual can visit without the need of a prior visa is 107.
India’s Global Ranking Over The Years
We looked at their 2022 global ranking, where we found India sharing its 87th rank with Mauritiania and Tajikistan, all three of them having visa-free access to 60 countries.
We then looked up India’s ranking across 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 (years under PM Narendra Modi-led NDA at Centre).
We observed that the ranks fluctuate even when the number of countries that grant visa-free access stays constant.
For instance, the number of countries that one could travel with an Indian passport without a prior visa in 2018 and 2022 was 60. However, the rankings are different.
The same for years 2021 and 2020, in which an individual holding an Indian passport could travel to 58 countries without a prior visa. But the rankings are different again.
This indicated that the rankings are relative to the performance of other countries, and does not solely rely on the number of countries that an individual carrying an Indian passport can travel visa-free.
India’s Passport Strength During UPA Years
Newschecker then looked up the country’s rankings during the UPA’s rule (2004-2014). The Henley Passport Index had only started in 2006.
We learnt that although there was a slight increase in the number of countries an Indian passport can access without visa from 2004-2014 to 2014-2022, the ranking has dipped.
The UPA peak, in terms of access to countries, was 52 in 2013, while NDA’s record was 60 in 2022. The ranking, however, has dropped from UPA’s best of 71 in 2006 to NDA’s highest point of 81 in 2018.
We further reached out to Henley & Partners over why India’s ranking dropped despite the increase in visa-free access to countries, and what is the true measure of a passport’s strength.
Speaking to Newschecker, Sarah Nicklin, group head of public relations at Henley & Partners, indicated that the increase in number of countries that one could travel visa free was not just an Indian phenomenon, but a global one, with overall travel freedom levels expanding significantly over the past decade and half.
“According to historical data from the Henley Passport Index, an individual could, on average, visit 57 countries in 2006 without needing to acquire a visa in advance. Today, that number has risen to 107, but this overall increase masks a growing disparity between countries in the global north and those in the global south…So yes, it is certainly true on one level that the Indian passport, like many others, has strengthened and improved its visa-free travel over the last decade. However, what the drop in ranking shows is that some other countries have done even better in improving their visa-free access for their citizens (hence they have a higher visa-free destination score and have moved ahead of them on the actual ranking),” Nicklin said.
On why the number of countries that grant visa-free access fluctuates, Nicklin said the process for visa waivers between countries are dictated by a variety of factors. They may include commonalities in history, economic status, proactive foreign relations, security and reciprocal agreements.
Nicklin further stated that countries tend to make travel easier for those states that have made travel and trade easier for them. “The visa-policy space is a very dynamic one—one that is changing on an almost weekly basis. It is precisely this dynamism that has allowed Asian countries like Japan, Singapore and South Korea above to climb up the ranking in recent years and countries such as the US and the UK (which shared 1st place in 2014) to slide down,” Nicklin said.
The Indian passport has gained visa-free access to more countries under NDA rule, when compared to UPA, however, this information has to be viewed in the context that overall travel freedom levels have improved over the past 15 years. Other countries have done better than India, which explains its drop in ranking.
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